In the olden days, before vinyl records were replaced by CDs, record players had to be isolated from vibrations. Tremors and shocks would make the needle jump out of the groove, spoiling the listening experience and risking permanent damage to the disc, the needle, or both. (You can replicate the effect today by banging a CD player with a brick or a hammer, but don’t try this at home).

In life, it’s the other way round. Sometimes the needle gets stuck and it needs a nudge to help it on its way. To illustrate what I mean think of any conversation where somebody keeps covering the same old ground with no satisfactory change or outcome.

Let’s think about this or a moment. Why would a person keep harping on about the same old topic? Possibility one is that their life is so humdrum and boring that they have nothing else to talk about.

Possibility two could be (this is speculation, after all), that they have forgotten that they’ve raised the topic before. Yet another possibility (let’s call it three), is that they are hoping for a response from the listener which is different from previous responses.

Or, another way of asking the question above would be “Why would someone need to constantly repeat themselves?” In answer, there might be a clue in our own behaviour. You and I don’t repeat what we’ve said when we feel heard and acknowledged. On the other hand, if we feel that what we have said hasn’t been heeded. we DO tend to repeat ourselves. This is particularly the case when our point or request is something that is important to us.

Still with me? Because another aspect of this is that when you engage in a conversation and hear a story that you’ve heard a dozen times before, the result is no use to either of you, unless that is your aim is simply to fill the air with meaningless chit-chat.

The way out of this is to ask questions that are deliberately designed to get the speaker to ‘play a different tune’. This sometimes takes a bit more than a nudge – maybe a jolt or a shock (in a good way) – so that you shake them out of the groove they are in. Listening to the same old story does nobody any favours. It doesn’t address the underlying needs that make the repetition necessary, nor does it advance discussion and understanding.It might even reinforce a harmful narrative.

If you think that the needle has got stuck, you could try asking what’s causing the repetition.