Have you ever tried to have a serious conversation with someone who continually avoided the topic you were trying to broach? If so, do not fear because you are far from alone. As a coach, I continually work with people on deep personal growth issues that are of great value to the coachee. Even in this situation, there are many people who struggle to stay on topic. I always find this surprising considering that the subject they come to train for is themselves: what could be more important to them!
What is a deflection?
A diversion is simply a way to avoid discussing what really matters in a conversation. Strangers would often consider the people diverting the conversation to be quite jovial. When approached with a problem, comment, or question, they may be happy to respond with a silly, light-hearted joke related to what you’re presenting. Or they can smile at him and reply: what about the 49ers?
Whatever your answer, diversion is the art of skillfully and ‘seemingly’ harmlessly changing a topic from one of greater importance to one of relatively lesser importance. The result: questions often go unanswered, progress remains stunted, and a conversation never surfaces.
What happens when people go astray?
While I have no formal education in the psychology behind why people stray, I can speak from my experience working with numerous people who ‘avoid’ certain topics like the plague. Deviation is often a sign that what you are bringing up is important, unresolved, and a struggle for the person treating you. People who drift are more comfortable internalizing these struggles than talking openly about them. For friends, family, and life coaches, this presents quite a challenge, as an important component of relationships, whether in social or professional circles, is open and truthful communication. How do you support a family member or coach a client who constantly diverts the conversation?
See deviations for what they are
When you’re in a conversation and you’re in the middle of ‘real life’ discussions, it’s pretty hard to notice a deviation if you’re allowing the conversation to flow. It’s easy to get caught up in the conversation, especially when the deflector is cajoling the conversation with pleasant adages. Because of this, it is very important to see the deviation for what it is instead of getting caught up in the conversation. This is an act of awareness and requires practice. We often miss the detour and think later: why didn’t I say something! Remember: it takes practice, the person using the diversion has probably mastered the skill for years or even decades, so don’t expect to be able to avoid all diversions only after reading an article on the subject.
Once again, step 1, be aware of what is happening so you can act.
deviations vs. a wandering mind
Before I continue, I want to make a distinction between a person who diverts the conversation and a person who has a wandering mind. When you’re training, time is limited and time costs money. If you are outside the realm of coaching and are simply having a conversation with someone, you may not be limited by time limits, so wandering conversation may not be detrimental. For coaches, however, it’s important to note diversions that take you off topic, as well as rambling discussions, as they create a lack of focus that prevents the client from making progress during your time together. Here are the main differences between the two:
- Diversions are intended to deliberately divert the conversation from the topic.
- Deviations are used as a way to hide what is really important to someone.
- Deviations are a sign that you are touching something the person is uncomfortable with (and may be hiding what needs to be uncovered)
- Wanderers have lots of ideas and often lack focus.
- Travelers are happy to get back on track, but really feel it’s important to share ancillary information.
- Vagrants are not avoiding conversation, but will talk at length about important and unimportant topics.
Again, be aware of these two tendencies, as either one will take you off topic, however, the methods of dealing with people who drift are very different from dealing with people whose conversation wanders (fodder for a future article). blog)
Strategies to overcome deviations
If you want to put an end to the seemingly endless set of diversions that your partner, friend, co-worker, or client seems to throw at you, you’re going to have to confront that person the next time it happens. This can be difficult, as I have found that most people prefer not to confrontation, even though the kind of confrontation I am talking about is quite benign and can be done compassionately. Let me provide some examples.
Diversion tactic: change the questions
Problem – In a conversation you ask a person a serious question (perhaps about his wishes for the future, goals, his vision), and he responds by asking you a question. One of my favorites was a client who avoided questions by letting me know what a great coach he was and asking me who my manager was so he could congratulate me.
Strategy – Let them know you’d be happy to talk about it later. Right now you are interested in them. Ask the question again.
Diversion tactic: change the subject
Problem – You are talking to a friend, co-worker, client, etc. and again you have some important questions to ask. You have been trying to get an answer on this topic for a while. When you ask, the answer is a complete change of subject with a cheerful tone. Again, one of my personal favorites was a client who got sidetracked into talking about the Minnesota Vikings no matter what the conversation we were having was related to.
Strategy – Confront them about what they are doing. What do you notice happens to our conversation each time I mention x, y, z? When asked a question that confronts them about the act of what they’re doing, it becomes very difficult to do more of the same (ie, my friend above would have a hard time asking me if I watched the Vikings game or not after doing that question!)
Deflection Tactic – The Joker
Problem – Every time you bring up an important topic, ‘The Joker’ is answered with a devious, simple and cheerful joke. They often have a smile and make others around them smile, so they are a little harder to deal with.
Strategy – Appeal to their kindness and refocus. One might say – that’s funny. I really appreciate your good character and humor. Now if you don’t mind, this topic is really important to discuss: tell me about x, y, z.
Diversion Tactic – Apologies
Problem – You have tried to have a serious discussion with someone about a topic and every time you bring it up, instead of getting to the heart of the matter, the deflector makes excuses, tells you his life story and avoids the important thing for you to discuss by saying that we’ll get to that later.
Strategy – Listen, recognize and ask again. The person who is avoiding a conversation by throwing out a series of excuses is overwhelmed and her priorities are not the same as yours. They would usually be open to having this conversation, but it’s hard for them to deal with what you’re talking about right now. They are indirectly letting you know that they need to be heard. They need support too, so maybe you can offer that support. Give them some space, let them vent, let them know you understand things are tough. Once you’ve allowed them to clarify their thoughts, they may be open to discussing the topic you’re interested in discussing.