Ending Circular Conversations

“You’re drunk!”

“No, I’m not!”

“Yes, you are!”

“NO, I’M NOT!!!”

Does this sound familiar? I would hope that you haven’t gotten caught up in too many Circular Conversations, but chances are you’ve had to deal with at least a couple of intoxicated individuals. And if one thing stands true, it is that intoxicated individuals have a tendency to push you into Circular Conversations.

“A Circular Conversation* happens when both parties have opposing positions on an issue, dig in, and reiterate the merits of their position ad nauseum. It doesn’t end with resolution, it ends either with one or both people giving up from sheer exhaustion.” In the case of those working in nightclub and bar environments, it usually ends with the Patron being ejected or in the worst case scenario, the Patron being arrested.

As I mentioned in our post on Attitude and Approach, “Your attitude and approach will always dictate a Patron’s response to you. EVERY TIME.” Should you notice a situation that you think deserves your attention, be it an intoxicated Patron or a potential fight, your should ALWAYS enter it calmly and objectively. Remember, what you see is NOT always what you get. Take the time to figure out the problem BEFORE you try and solve it. On those occasions when – for whatever reason – your clear head and objectivity fall by the wayside and you get sucked into a Circular Conversation, keep the following in mind:

  • Don’t repeat anything you have already said – Continuing to tell someone that they are drunk and they have to leave will only reinforce their desire to prove they are not drunk and make them want to stay.
  • Don’t explain or respond to a question that you have already answered – Telling someone over and over “The Reasons Why…” does absolutely NOTHING to bring a conversation to an end.
  • Don’t engage in aggressive acts – Don’t touch people unless you need to move them. No fingers in the chest, no getting in their space. Give them room – literally and figuratively – to hear you out.
  • Don’t try to get the last word – You will never get in the last word. Ever.
  • Don’t try to change the other person’s mind – Their thoughts and beliefs and feelings are their own. An intoxicated individual is not only trying to maintain face. They are also trying to prove you wrong and NOTHING you do will change that.
  • Don’t spend airtime describing the other person’s behavior, feelings or actions – You might have to tell them that they fell over into a table full of drinks, but spending time listing every single thing they did wrong is going to elicit an opposite response (i.e. “No I did not!) to every accusation.
  • Don’t wait for agreement or consensus to end the conversation – YOU are the individual in charge. YOU are going to make the final decision as to whether they stay or go. And YOU have the right to end the conversation.

I often equate dealing with intoxicated Patrons to having an argument with a 4 year old. No amount of RATIONAL explanation is going to work. Why? Because 4 year olds have not developed the ability to think critically and intoxicated Patrons have lost the ability to think critically.

“Well, that’s great,” you say, “But what CAN I do in this situation?”

  • Recognize the pattern – The sooner you see that you are going around in circles, the quicker you can cut off the pattern.  Acknowledge that you are in a conversation that is just going around and around.
  • Switch from stating facts to stating feelings – Empathy actually works both ways. “I’m a little concerned that you aren’t hearing me out” or “I’m not happy about this decision but…” Tell them where you are coming from and why you are uncomfortable with your decision to remove them/break up the fight/whatever. The point is to make them empathize, which makes them listen, which makes them stop talking, which (hopefully) makes them walk with you, which gets them out the door.
  • Walk and Talk – Carry on your conversation as you move the individual towards the door. “You know I can’t hear you that well. Let’s step over here/outside/off the dance floor for  a second.” Once someone is moving, keep them moving.
  • End the conversation, calmly and with your dignity intact – “This is my final decision/I’ve done enough talking/There is nothing more to discuss.” Bring finality to the discussion and DO NOT GO FURTHER, even if they keep talking.

Once the conversation has been shut down, it then becomes a matter of either moving the individual by force -which has hopefully been avoided by you talking them out the door or handing them off – or giving them an opportunity to prove you wrong through their actions. Believe it or not, some Patrons will listen to you and follow your rules.

Always remember that you are the adult the in room. And the adults make the rules.

* This post is an expansion on a great web article:  http://onlinecounsellingcollege.tumblr.com/post/30472844323/circular-conversations-and-arguments

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