We’ve all been in that meeting. You know the one where we find ourselves or our peers reiterating the same point again… and again… and again… using slightly different words. In fact, you’ve been in that type of conversation at home, with your spouse, and with your siblings.
Circular conversations are a common (albeit annoying) part of our communication. The problem is, circular communication is one of the least effective communication styles.
Talking in circles repeats a theme or thought
Circular speaking is when you reiterate a point multiple times within a conversation, using a small variation of your language. It is making the same point again, and again, and again. No matter what anyone else says you bring up the same point and continue to discuss it.
Yes, that last paragraph was me talking in circles. I didn’t say anything new and could have cut the second and third sentences out completely.
Talking in circles is a form of redundancy
You don’t progress an idea forward if you are adamantly trying to prove your point. This usually stems from a deep desire to convince others that you are knowledgeable about a subject.
Circular speaking can negatively impact your reputation at home and work
Although it feels like you’re proving your point by repeating yourself, it actually disintegrates your credibility. It looks like you lack confidence. When you have full trust in your thoughts, you feel comfortable stating your idea and then backing away to allow the conversation to continue. This allows your peers to build on or adapt your ideas to further strengthen them.
Talking in circles can also make it seem like you’re not listening to the people around you. You can become so fixed on your idea that you choose to repeat it, rather than working with the new and diverse ideas of the people on your team. It can seem like you’re not hearing what the people around you are discussing. And gives the impression that you’re uncollaborative. You’re taking what they’ve already said and repeating it back to them. And this can cause them to question your competence.
Talking in circles can spread like a disease
When you are especially engaged in circular speaking, you can wrap your colleagues up in it too.
Circular speaking is very common in work environments with lots of groupthink. Groupthink is where people agree with the thoughts, perceptions and beliefs of a group unquestioningly. They would choose to go along with the group rather than being willing to incite new ideas or ask questions that might break up the culture. Groupthink happens a lot in teams that have worked together for a long time, or where independent thought and contribution is not valued. The less diversity there is in a group, the more groupthink occurs.
Groupthink can be a sign of strong collaboration but it can also be a sign of a poor culture. It results in decreased productivity from a team because you’re not inciting new ideas, coming up with creative thoughts, or tackling some of the tough problems in new and inventive ways. The chances are that you will not come up with new and creative solutions. By stepping outside of the group thought and suggest something new and creative you break the boundaries of groupthink.
The pros of using circular speaking are limited
The only positive of circular speaking is that you reiterate your point. And if anyone were to miss your point the first time you said it (because let’s be honest, it’s very easy to get distracted in meetings), they are then able to catch up.
If you are trapped in a circular speaking conversation, ask a strategic question
To stop your peers from talking in circles interject with a question.
If you are trapped in a circular conversation that you can’t seem to get out of… you know, that meeting that goes on, and on but achieves nothing (we’ve all been there)… You need to ask a question that will change the topic or develop the conversation.
These questions can feel uncomfortable. It feels like you’re pushing the boundaries by interrupting someone that is being repetitive. You might be worried that you will irritate them. But this is healthy tension because it means you’re stepping outside of a circular conversation and disengaging from groupthink.
Here are some examples of questions that I have used to break up a circular conversation:
- “Hey (insert name of another person in the room), what do you think?”
- “Thanks for your input, does anyone else want to share anything?”
- “How do you recommend we apply what you are suggesting?”
- “I hear what you are saying. Can you argue the other side and play Devil’s Advocate?”
- “What would you say is the greatest challenge with your argument?”
Another scenario where we see a lot of talking in circles is family arguments
Occasionally my husband and I have fun arguments where we’re actually reiterating the same points in different ways. It’s a circular conversation because he is saying the same thing as I am… he’s just saying it differently. And although I feel that I need to be right… and he thinks hehe needs to be right about… we’re actually both arguing the same point. Embarrassing right?
Once we realize that we are actually saying the same thing in circles, we can defuse the tension and conclude that we’re both correct. This helps us realign our frustration towards working together to solve a problem.
Circular talking can feel frustrating and easy at the same time. It is uncomfortable because you recognize that you are repeating yourself, but can’t seem to convince other people of your point. But it’s comfortable because it allows you to stick to what you know.
Circular arguments are unhealthy
They will not get resolved unless you realize that your argument is circular. You need to break the cycle and admit that you are wrong. To disagree healthily I recommend sitting down next to each other (figuratively and literally) and communicating from a joint intention to work together to solve the problem. Instead of working against each other. You have to frame the argument as you and your partner versus the problem. Not you versus each other.
Workplaces need to grow their communication environment to avoid circular conversations
“Circular speak” is common at work, and you probably won’t be able to evolve past it (or better yet, avoid it) unless your employer is highly attuned to communication processes.
To avoid circular speaking, think through your whole point before you communicate it. Then pause let people fill the space and ask the questions that will help you to avoid groupthink. You will come up with more creative solutions to problems if you allow others to help you think.
Meetings and arguments are not opportunities for you to repeat yourself until someone finally listens to you. If you can avoid groupthink, as well as circular speaking, you will find that your communication skills and your productivity at work and home will significantly improve. You’ll be able to more effectively persuade people of your ideas, develop new initiatives, and lead the charge for your organization.