Do You Talk At, Down, Or To People

Randall Davey

 At the beginning of my third-grade year, Ms. Gertrude Smallshaw established her authority by thundering on the first day of school, “No talking in my classroom.” Then she talked for the rest of the period and even asked us to respond to questions. At the time I didn’t understand the “no talking rule,” especially when she violated it. In retrospect, I understand her rule was about assuming total control of all conversation. We were only allowed to talk when, how, and about what she deemed acceptable. She habitually talked at us, over us, or down to us, but never with us. 

Let me clarify. 

  1. Talking at people. Some persons tend to dominate conversations; they want to be heard but give little thought to hearing others. I think of my mother, who handed out stiff critiques of the ways my sister and I kept our rooms. After receiving a “fails to meet expectation” tongue lashing, I wouldn’t utter a word; then she would say, “And yes, I’m talking to you.” She rarely was in the mood to hear the legitimate reasons I didn’t make my bed or hang up my clothes. Her monologue was a one-way street. She didn’t want to hear me; she wanted strict obedience. 
  2. Talking over people is a cousin to talking at people. Those who talk over others may not realize it, but they message to everyone else in the room that no interruption is going to stop them. They believe what they have to say is far more important than what others want to say, even if time is running out. They tend not to invite feedback. Rather, they give the feedback, solicited or not. If anyone in the room attempts to break in, raise a question, or make a comment, over talkers simply raise their volume and muscle through. 
  3. Talking down to people is a sister sin to talking at and talking over folks. Here, the speaker condescends to offer commentary on every subject, but assumes the recipient doesn’t have the bandwidth or brain power to make a meaningful contribution to the conversation. Those who talk down are often accused of insulting the intelligence of those to whom they are speaking. 

“Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.” 

Mark Twain 

There is a good, healthy, and helpful way to talk, and that’s to talk with people. Those who talk with people enter conversation with humility, respect, and honor, assuming they may contribute to, as well as benefit from, the conversation. The first three styles see persons as objects to be lobbied, or voices to stifle; talking with people views conversations as opportunities to mutually learn and benefit from a thoughtful exchange. 

Randall E. Davey, CAP® is a financial advisor with Guide Advisors, Inc. In certain circumstances, he may offer insurance as a sole proprietor or through Guide Advisors, Inc. Randall can be reached at or by phone at 206-486-2477. 

Advisory services are offered through Guide Advisors, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor in Washington, and other jurisdictions in which it may conduct business. The information contained herein should in no way be construed or interpreted as a solicitation to sell or offer to sell advisory services to any residents of any State other than the states listed above or where otherwise legally permitted. All written content is for information purposes only. It is not intended to provide any tax or legal advice or provide the basis for any financial decisions. The information contained in this material has been derived from sources believed to be reliable but is not guaranteed as to accuracy and completeness and does not purport to be a complete analysis of the materials discussed 

Guide Advisors, Inc. 19125 North Creek Parkway, Suite 120, Bothell, WA 98011 206.486.2477