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Techniques > Conversation techniques > Sustaining the conversation > Blocking

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



In conversation, we sometimes act to block people and topics, keeping the focus on the things we wish to talk about or just ourselves, and avoiding more difficult discussions.


A simple way of blocking in a conversation is to forbid discussion about certain points. This can be done by requesting that others sustain their focus on a given topic and that they do not 'wander off' elsewhere. A common excuse for this is limited time available.


Blocking a person may be done by simply ignoring anything they say. If they say 'what about' or 'I disagree', just act as if they had not said it and continue with the discussion you want to have. This is a method that politicians often use as they avoid awkward questions and talk about their latest policies and successes.


Blocking can also be effected by bringing up something that is of greater interest or importance. When you use distraction, you lay lures that take them off the trail to areas you do not want to discuss and onto side topics that are usually of no real consequence.


When people start talking about difficult minutiae, move the topic to a higher-level general discussion. If they try to look at an awkward big picture, dive into the details. Chunking avoids discussions by moving the conversation to higher or lower levels 'chunks' of information.


You can limit discussion about an unwanted subject by making it seem trivial and unimportant. Downplay talk about its importance and skim lightly over it, claiming other topics are more important and, by implication, any discussion about the unwanted subject is itself trivializing those things you say are more important.


You can also just steer the conversation away from unwanted topics, keeping control of the conversation and stimulating discussion in more interesting areas elsewhere that keep people engaged and away from the pitfalls that you want to avoid.


Another way of avoiding a subject is to put it off, saying you will come back to it or find out more at another time. This pushes the subject into the future and avoids discussion about it now. This can also be done by claiming you have to get data from elsewhere or need to learn more before being able to seriously discuss it.


When a person speaks in a way that includes multiple instances of things that others disagree with, then those others may well forget a number of points as they wait to interrupt about a single point. Blocking can hence be done by first raising contentious point and then adding in a number of more important points that you want to make. Objections will be made to the early point while you will likely get away with saying the other things.


And finally, you can just keep talking. 'Filibustering' is where a person talks at great length, filling up the time available and not giving anyone else a chance to speak (or disagree). Politicians again tend to use this method, especially where there is limited debating time.


Sorry, I don't know much about that. Can we stick to topic, please?

That's as may be, but I do want to point out how much we have achieved this year.

We want to do this, but not that, yet while these other points are being made I would also like to show you these things here and note how the other factors, while important, are not so relevant to this particular context.


In conversation with others, we often want to talk about certain things in which we have an interest and in ways that will convince others of certain points that will gain us agreement and support for our goals. We also seek to avoid things which are embarrassing, damaging or which take focus away from the subjects we want to discuss.

The methods of blocking above are just a few of the many ways we avoid talking about those things that we want to avoid. For example we may attack the other person, feign ignorance, use false arguments, etc.

Social blocking, or 'blanking' happens where one person is trying to push another out of a group by ignoring them. This can be quite hurtful as the ignored person feels a loss of identity and status. Despite the bullying connotations, this silent shunning is a common method used in social and also work groups.

See also

Resisting persuasion


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