Have you ever felt as though you have resolved something in a conversation and then a few minutes later, you’re hearing it all over again, as the other person keeps repeating the same points over and over as though they haven’t accepted your perspective?

IDo you ever feel drained or depressed after talking with a particular friend, co-worker or relative? Some people have been having the same conversations for a lifetime. They tell you what a terrible job they have. They give you a weekly run-down on their love affair that’s in jeopardy. They ask for — but never take — advice on a new business venture.

Welcome to circular conversations, sometimes also known as word salads.

Politicians are adept at using these techniques when answering a journalist’s question with words, that don’t necessarily address the question, but provide an answer that leaves the reader or listener confused and perplexed.

Bullies, narcissists, and anyone intent on trying to brainwash you will do the same, and this could be from a toxic intimate relationship, a work colleague, a friendship, the media and even the government.

Black ops militia are trained in specialised decoy procedures that create diversions. They can redirect traffic with an accident, a fire, or an explosion that serves to distract civilians on the ground with no casualties. They have one of 6 entry points to choose from when extracting or eliminating their target (north, south, east, west, down, and up) so ensuring most of these are clear, or deterred, ensures a smoother exit process.

Most of the time.

Someone intent on confusing, controlling, abusing, or manipulating you will do the same. They might divert your focus by bringing up your own past wrongdoings, and when it’s not contextually relevant, chances are you will get distracted and try to defend yourself.

And if the discussion had commenced with you trying to make them accountable for their actions or wrongdoings, chances are, that the conversation is no longer a dialogue, but a frenzied circular conversation with you initially trying to keep up, but ultimately feeling exhausted and resentful instead.

Formal debates require preparation, research, and evidence to support your arguments. They also demand clarity, logic, and etiquette from the speakers, but less formal exchanges are messier, less structured, and rely on compatible communication styles for ease of interaction.

Have you ever met someone in your life that you make a point of keeping at a distance, as when you do engage, they rant incessantly at you, mostly about themselves?

Maybe you know of someone that is domineering and dogmatic in their speech, and are prone to ‘gish galloping’, which makes you feel as though you are under siege? The ‘gish gallop’ is considered an argumentative strategy because it relies on bombarding the opponent with a large number of claims.

It’s a pretentious technique in which a person in a debate attempts to overwhelm their opponent by providing an excessive number of arguments with no regard for the accuracy or strength of those arguments.

It’s similar to a straw man argument and railroading. The other person will bring up unrelated issues and continue berating you for an answer, ultimately derailing the conversation to what they want to focus on.

Sometimes they will insult you or criticise you in a bid to disarm you of confidence.

There was an incident in one of my acquaintance groups where a friend’s son behaved poorly and was verbally disciplined by someone else’s partner during a birthday party, they had all attended. When my friend’s son continued to physically provoke the other child, said partner double downed and chose not to give the first friend’s son a lolly bag as a consequence.

Despite not being in attendance, I heard many people’s accounts of the incident, and all were more or less aligned except for my friend, who called, seeking my sympathy and support. I said that I’d already heard about what had happened and would prefer not to share my opinion for the sake of our friendship.

She stated that she had a lot of respect for my perspective, as someone who had worked as a child protection social worker.

I reiterated that I would prefer to stay out of it, given that I agreed with what the other person had done. Against my better judgement, I mentioned her repeated history of not appropriately intervening and implementing consequences for her son.

It escalated into a circular conversation and when I refused to participate, her prior endorsement of my qualifications dissipated after I refused to take her side. She dethroned my “status” by deciding I was wrong, as I didn’t have children myself.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown of respect, but light is the weight on their shoulders when the burden of placating others is met with genuine indifference. The level of contempt I received was high. But the number of shits I gave was approximately, no wait, EXACTLY zero.

Circumlocution comes from the Latin words “circum”, (circle), and “loqui”, (to speak). So, circumlocution is speaking in circles, going round and round in a wordy way without ever getting to the heart of the matter. Circular conversations are the ones which never end or reach an agreements between 2 parties

The flashing, neon sign that you are in a word salad conversation is that you feel as if the other person is talking in circles and keeps bringing the same topic up over and over again. You might think that a topic has been resolved and a few minutes later they are bringing it back up again, expressing the exact same points.

I have observed it with abusive people who use it as a tool for manipulation and control, and I have also seen it with people who are unhealed from trauma and emotionally locked in a victim holding pattern. They are stuck in a part of their story like a broken record and cannot move past wanting sympathy or attention for a (traumatic) time in their life that is difficult to move forward from.

I also see it with my aunty who cannot forgive her husband for cheating on her over 30 ears ago, and still blames him for all her downfalls. I notice it from a client in his late 50’s who still blames his strict upbringing from his mother for his addiction issues. I spot it with Zionists who justify the evisceration of land and thousands of innocent Palestinian lives.

Conversations with them revolve around the same topic and even the same sentences that get repeated.

Therapists have sometimes come and gone in their lives, but no progress has ever being made, as they are not ready to commit to moving forward in their journey of healing and transformation.

Initially you feel empathy for their plight, but when this empathy escalates to feeling pity, or sorry for them, this is the point where you have to be aware of your boundaries, otherwise holding the space for a one sided conversation that won’t resolve or transcend, can lead to frustration.

At the end of the day, it’s helpful to consider whether you’re helping the person who seems to be going in circles — or simply delaying them from getting a resolution to the problem.

Initially you might say, “I’m not trying to be rude. But I need some quiet time right now to think. Let’s talk later.” As your intolerance becomes bigger and your intrinsic need to people please minimises, you might say something like, “well I don’t want to keep you from your day, so I will talk to you later,” and then walk away, or “I’m so sorry to cut this short, but I really must be going.” and then leave.

And as you enhance your confidence, you’ll eventually feel comfortable enough to say, “I won’t discuss this with you” — with no need to explain why, as your need to be accepted has dissipated like your muscle tone when you no longer go to the gym.

The key is to walk away. The spare key is to not engage when you are being baited and the master key is to retire the urge to prove them wrong or to show them the way. But if you want the universal key, then relinquishing any need to be right is where you will find true freedom.

Arguing with people determined to make you wrong and disregard your opinion, is like playing chess with a pigeon. You can make the best possible move against your opponent, and they’ll just knock over the pieces, and shit all over the board. It’s just not worth your time.

Until we cross paths this year, I am wishing you peace on your journey,

Patty Kikos

P.S. Remember the era before the internet where we had infomercials? It’s where the line “but wait, there’s more!” comes from. The man that was behind this, who among many other entrepreneurial adventures, was also the CEO of Luna Park. He now cares for his wife who has dementia and our chat was honest, heart wrenching, but mostly hilarious about how male baby boomer is adjusting to being a carer. Listen to the podcast on SPOTIFY or head this way if you’re inclined towards APPLE.