May 30, 2024

The Addictive Conversation: How Are You Getting Your Fix?

When we think of the conversations we conduct—with our superiors, with direct reports, with family, even with ourselves—it’s difficult to believe that we are addicted to our roles in them. It may even be tough to recognize that most of our conversations fall into repeated patterns at all. But they do.



The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.


Perhaps the biggest eye-opener at my workshops and Clarity Summits is the recognition that our conversations with the most important people in our lives (family, coworkers, members of our church, volunteer groups, customers) follow patterns. Most dialogues between people who’ve known each other a long time tend to follow the same pattern every time.

Why do these patterns develop so firmly? Because we’re addicted to them. We get some need met by participating in a prescribed manner with a particular person.

Two patterns you have probably participated in were identified by Eric Berne in the 1970s. Do these seem familiar?

NIGYYSOB: Now I Got You, You Son of a Bitch, or NIGYYSOB, is the classic setup, and you know the players, don’t you? You’ll hear something like “but what you don’t know is…,” which of course makes the aggressor’s case ironclad, knocking the victim out of the park. I know team leaders who manage their whole organizations like this; they’re addicted to it.

Kick me: Here, players set up situations where they will be highly criticized and made to feel one-down and incompetent—a position they are addicted to. Hard to believe, but they get some psychological need met by assuming this position. (Can you imagine the childhood environment that spawned this Knower/Judger addiction?)

These are two extreme cases of conversational addiction, but there are many other less intrusive patterns. Maybe you have one with a spouse or a child.

I know executives who have worked together for decades and have fallen into “comfortable” unproductive patterns. They unconsciously align their K/Js to execute similar versions of the same unproductive conversations over and over again. I know even more husbands and wives with similar issues.

Here’s the path out. It’s not easy, but you can break your addiction to certain conversations:

  • Recognize when you are involved in repetitive conversational patterns.
  • Assess the real value of the pattern. Where’s the payoff? Why is it important to you?
  • Picture your relationship with the person without that pattern.
  • Decide to say or do something different the next time you recognize you’re entering that pattern. It doesn’t really matter what you say or do, just so long as it’s different. Your pattern partner will react entirely differently—and you’re on your way to a different result.

I’ve watched it work a thousand times.


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