In the past month alone, I have experienced this at least three times and the people in question were both young and older. One of the older people was extremely well-versed in current affairs, the other expressed passionate views about the state of the earth and the younger one had strong opinions about the way society and education are run.
All three happened to be men. I only know one or two women who monologue in this way. But not all the men that I know favour monologue over dialogue. Far from it – I have many male colleagues and friends who ask great questions and listen attentively to the answers. But still, there does seem to be a pattern. One of my girlfriends told me that when she meets a man she applies the ‘man test’ – “Did he ask any questions?” Another pointed out that there is now a word for this behaviour: 'mansplaining'!
My response to habitual ‘monologuers’ has evolved over the years. Earlier in my life I found it frustrating and I criticised it, but now I find myself trying to understand it. Could it be that these people simply weren’t brought up to be inquisitive about others (one man told me he felt intrusive asking people personal questions about their lives)? Or perhaps my initial assumption – that no questions means someone is not interested in me or my thinking – was flawed?
If one accepts that we (human beings) co-create patterns like monologuing, we can also disrupt them – e.g. by interrupting, bending the conversation towards a subject that matters to us at that moment, or just walking away.
I discussed this with a male friend recently. “Surely,” he said, “if you felt passionate about something, you would talk about it.” “Well, not necessarily,” I responded, “I tend to wait until I am invited to share my experience." I almost added: "And if I do speak, I want the other person to concentrate on what I am saying, not to look for the first opportunity to draw the conversation back to themselves or their interests.”
Strangely enough, I have also come to think lately that it is possible to ask too many questions. Journalists and researchers are particularly prone to this bias – and that includes me. This strikes me most when I find myself at the receiving end of a succession of curious questions. I notice that it takes quite an effort to work out my responses and I can quickly become exhausted. I then wish the flow of questions would abate, so I could shift the attention and pressure onto the other person by asking a question myself.
I wonder if perhaps there is a range of personal tendencies or personality types – from those who habitually talk without much prompting, to those who typically inquire first. Maybe it’s a bit like autism – we are all somewhere ‘on the spectrum’.
But still, despite my characteristic ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ thought process, I do think ultimately that a bit more inquiry and dialogue would make the world a better place.