My friend talks nonstop about herself. How can I get her to listen to me? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri

Not being listened to is exhausting. If you want to continue the friendship, you’ll need to make your needs clear

I have a question on how to deal with my friend “V”. She is very sweet but a complete chatterbox. When we meet, she talks nonstop, usually about herself. We are both women in our early 30s and have been friends since secondary school. It is only in the last few years that I have noticed our conversations are really her monologues. She rarely asks me questions or shows much interest in what I am up to.

Things I have tried include: jumping in to say something rather than waiting to be asked (in which case, she nods and listens politely, then gets back to whatever she was banging on about before I spoke), and continuing to talk whenever she starts to talk over me (I used to just fall silent and let her take the floor). I have to say, “V, let me finishor “V, it’s my time to speak now” (her husband has to do the same).

In recent times I have started to engage less/ask her fewer questions, but she does not seem to notice. If this all sounds like a teacher and a child, that is also how it feels to me and I would prefer not to be in this role.

Is there anything else you can recommend? She has a very gentle nature and I do not want to snap at her or hurt her feelings. But I need guidance because I feel like her audience rather than her friend.

You’ve put it very eloquently and that sounds quite tough. I know some people who are “stuck on transmit”. Not being listened to is exhausting and invalidating, and after a while one-sided conversations make you feel like you could be just anyone, sat there. It doesn’t exactly make you feel special.

I consulted BACP registered psychotherapist Armele Philpotts. Philpotts wondered if something had caused V’s “social needs not to be currently met.” Some people talk more when they’re anxious and it becomes a vicious cycle. Or, maybe your gradual noticing of the way she is, is an indication that the friendship isn’t giving you what you need any more.

V either doesn’t understand how to listen, or doesn’t want to. Being a good, reflective, listener is a real skill and one few people have, but most people at least let the other person speak!

Philpotts also wondered if this was how V’s family were: “As you’ve known V since school you might know her parents. Is this a family way of doing things?” It doesn’t make it easier but it may make it more understandable

Given V’s husband also has to adopt coping mechanisms I think, if you do want to continue the friendship, it may be time to act. You don’t need to be snappy, although the longer this goes on and it winds you up, the more likely it is you will blurt out something less controlled. Philpotts suggested: “I really love it when you listen to me [people are more responsive if criticism is preceded by praise], but it seems like we have different rules about taking turns to talk?”

Humour is another great way to deal with this, but that’s hard to do if a situation has gone on for so long that you’re wound up. Humour needs to come from a place of levity.

I have some friends who are not great listeners a lot of the time, but great friends in other ways. If I need them to listen I say at the beginning of the conversation, “I really just need you to listen to me for a bit.” That often works, if I’ve made it very clear from the outset. People shifting the conversation on to them, however, is harder to deal with. Sometimes this shifting is born out of them wanting show you they understand or that they are like you (the “that also happened to me” thing), but if the topic then doesn’t shift back to you, that’s very annoying.

For me, the worse offenders are people who never ask questions of others; in my experience, it shows they are not only not interested in others, but by definition not that interesting either. Have you tried doing activities with her? A good, brisk walk may not enable her to talk quite as much.

But sad though it is, it would be perfectly reasonable and understandable if you’ve started to move apart. We all evolve, and sometimes our friends grow with us, sometimes they don’t.

Friends made at school can be lifelong, but you can go through stages of having not that much in common, or needing different things; sometimes you find each other again further down the line. Sometimes you don’t. V sounds sweet, but if the friendship isn’t working, it’s OK to put it on pause for a while.

Maybe you could get her to listen to this podcast, on the art of listening.

• Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa, please send your problem to Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

• Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.

• The latest series of Annalisa’s podcast is available here.


Annalisa Barbieri

The GuardianTramp

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