Coexistence 102: Making Conversations

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Coexistence 101: Respecting Others

Language is symbolic and has many ways that words connect indirect meanings

  • Vocabulary, accent and style of speaking
    • Gives credibility and status, along with some identity
    • Styles can be adapted to connect with others
  • There are many ways to imply with the way words are said
    • Hedges (not saying the thing directly)
    • Polite forms of statements
    • Leading questions (e.g. you’re not hungry, are you?)
    • Disclaimers (apologies in advance)
    • Discriminatory language that classifies a group as better or worse
  • There are many ways that we communicate without words (nonverbally)
    • The way we say it
      • Where we are speaking our words from
        • We can be speaking from the nose or throat, but the best place to speak is from the chest
      • The way our voice feels
        • It can convey gentleness, softness, harshness, etc
      • The variance of our intonation
        • Don’t make a sentence sound like a question (don’t intone upwards at the end)
        • A monotone will bore people to where they want to leave or go to sleep
      • The speed and pacing of words being spoken
        • Pauses and silence can be very effective or very awkward
      • The pitch of a voice brings the tone upwards or downwards and carries emotions with it
      • How loud we speak
        • A loud voice gets people excited and energetic
        • A soft voice makes people pay more attention
        • Being loud all the time can reduce its effect
      • Pronunciation, articulation and dialect
      • Sounds that can’t be translated into words
    • Our body as we say it
      • This can communicate involvement, attitude and how we feel about what we’re saying
    • Our touching behavior
      • This must be used appropriately
      • Generally, the closer the relationship the more touching is involved
      • Too much touching can upset people and inspire them to put up boundaries
      • Too little touching can create distrust and a feeling of alienation by the other person
    • Our use of time
    • Our use of space (Hall’s zones of interpersonal space)
      • Intimate – 0-18″
      • Personal – 18″-4′
      • Social – 4′-12′
      • Public – >12′
    • The actual environment we’re in
      • Seating arrangements
      • Furniture
      • Color
      • Lighting
      • Number of other people around
    • Shared beliefs, behaviors and values
      • Gender/Sexual Orientation
      • Disability/Talent
      • Ethnicity/National Origin
      • Age/Appearance
      • Religious/Political Affiliation
      • Geographic Location
      • Group Membership/Educational Level

What you’re trying to say is never as important as how and when you’re saying it

  • You have a big impact on others, so it’s worth learning to get the right impact across
    • To say things is to bring them into existence in others’ minds, as well as affirm what you’ve thought
    • We often overlook how much impact we really have on others
    • Mindfulness of the power you hold makes it easier to direct and focus it
  • THINK before you speak
    • Make sure it’s TRUE and not fabricated or hearsay
    • It must be HELPFUL to the audience
    • It needs to be INSPIRING by creating a motivating call to action
    • It has to be NECESSARY for success in some way
    • The tone must be KIND in phrasing the subject of dialogue
  • Only talk to people interested in your thoughts
    • Someone who doesn’t care will hear you, but won’t listen
    • If you respect boundaries and yourself, you won’t try to convince them about what they don’t want to hear
      • If you do decide to push past their indifference, they will resent you for it
  • Share only one or two ideas at a time – think quality vs. quantity
    • When speaking, less information is better until someone asks
    • Too many details becomes a bit of an overload and implies that you don’t believe the information yourself
    • Too many points will cause the audience to tune out quickly
    • The most effective speakers are sharing a few ideas in a very powerful way
    • The easiest way to cut down on the ideas you’re sharing is to focus on the WHY far more than the WHAT
  • Try to choose a time and place where the other person isn’t distracted
    • Sometimes this isn’t easy
    • Make an appointment by asking “what’s a good time?”
      • Don’t ask “is this a good time?”, since that is only good for emergencies
    • If you’ve come at a bad time accidentally, back out immediately
      • If you say “this will only take a second”, people stop listening
      • If you want to re-schedule, do it later, not immediately
  • Try to accommodate your message to match who the person is
    • Before sharing, you must understand their perspective and attitude
      • Nobody wants to hear you until they know they are being heard
      • Use examples that will line up with the background of who you’re talking to
      • If the person is conditioned to tune people out, get someone else that they trust and respect to introduce you
    • Observe their personality
      • For dominant and direct people, make the point as quick as possible and avoid any pleasantries or small talk
      • For engaging and friendly people, keep sight of the goal you’re trying to communicate about, and make sure you don’t lose their focus
      • For calm and peaceful people, start with casual conversation and keep your tone even
      • For detail-minded and analytical people, give as many facts and details as you can to them
    • If you have offended someone accidentally, apologize and leave
      • Once you’ve offended someone, there is no backing out of it until they’ve mentally forgiven you on their own time
    • Your stress level will affect theirs, so you need to be confident in yourself

Small talk is the most common part of socializing

  • Small talk, as its name implies, is shallow, but is still necessary
    • People often feel uncomfortable about silence, and small talk is necessary to fill in that silence
    • One of the reasons small talk is so prevalent is because of how it doesn’t offend people or cross boundaries
      • Small talk has a ritual, and it is necessary for harmony with others
    • Some things are never small talk:
      • Intimate relationships and sex
      • Death, morbidity and major medical problems
      • Personal gain that outpaces anyone else’s
      • Business opportunities, especially sales or a small business
      • Secrets, especially those from other people
    • Certain items are off-limits for small talk in some cultures:
      • Age and weight
      • Ethnic origin
      • Family/marital status
      • Salary/income and financial information or money problems
      • Politics and controversial social issues, and sometimes you can’t criticize what others criticize
      • Religious views or philosophy
      • The economy, the stock market or current events
      • Things that can patronize someone’s nationality or criticize their royalty
      • Some compliments, since it might be construed as flirting
  • When used properly, small talk can “size up” others
    • Trust is a commodity of its own, and making small talk keeps that depth from showing itself
      • Small talk is lightweight enough in its content and depth that there’s no risk of others learning a lot of information
      • The most important people in the world will start a conversation discussing about petty things for this reason
    • Small talk will “weed out” the worst people that are not worth associating with:
      • Gossips about others’ bad traits – can’t be trusted with secrets and removes all credibility
      • Shows judgmental behavior – will come to false conclusions and leaves people unhappy
      • Negatively expresses thoughts – will demotivate everyone and makes it hard to listen
      • Complains – more focused on finding excuses and blame than finding solutions
      • Exaggerates – can’t be trusted to tell the truth and insults the seriousness of words
      • Dogmatic – confuses facts and opinions
      • Gives excessive details – will have a hard time relaxing and having fun
  • Unfortunately, small talk is counter-intuitive for some people
    • Detail-oriented people want to share more information about what they’re passionate about
    • Philosophical people often don’t have the patience to engage in small talk when they want to discuss deeper things
    • Thoughtful people think and live in more silence than most people
    • Emotionally secure people have a hard time circumventing some obvious things
    • Socially awkward people tend to break the “rules” of small talk without realizing it

Making small talk is not as hard as it seems

  • There are a ton of small talk topics to choose from
    • Introducing yourself or someone you know
    • Complimenting someone
      • Make sure it won’t be seen as insensitive, discriminatory or flirtatious
      • All compliments are variations of a few deeper statements
        • I love/appreciate you
        • I’m proud of you
        • You are important
        • You are special
        • You have worth
        • You are unique
        • You look great
    • Ask about someone’s day
    • Ask general topics
      • Schools
      • Work and workplaces, career/job aspirations
    • Tell jokes or funny stories
      • The best way to make a punchline work is to not laugh at it
    • Compare and contrast lifestyles
      • Hobbies and interests
      • Family
      • Friends and shared connections
    • Share about personal life
      • Likes and dislikes
      • Childhood dreams
      • Hometown
      • Future plans, hopes and dreams
      • Goals and accomplishments
    • Talk about things going on in the world
      • Current news stories, assuming they’re not controversial
      • Other people (keep it positive)
      • Comment on the current situation or venue
      • Holidays, past or future
      • Weather
    • Bring up entertainment
      • Music
      • TV/movies
      • Books/magazines
      • Sports
      • Fashion and trends
      • Celebrities
  • Get into the right attitude before you make small talk
    • Nobody is good with names, and they will love it if you remember theirs
    • Everyone loves being complimented
    • Everyone is just as afraid as you are of engaging with others
    • Learning to listen is much more important than being able to talk
    • About 2/3 of small talk involves people in some way
      • It’s not “gossip” unless it’s talking badly about them
    • Pretend you’re talking to a close friend
      • Focus on the other person exclusively, not on anything else around you
      • Make connections by sharing things that relates to what they’re saying
    • Assume the best in others
      • People can read your feelings, and you need to be genuinely happy and excited to see them
    • If someone else wants to talk more deeply, handle it properly
      • Designate a better time or place for the deeper conversation
      • If the situation doesn’t permit it, try to change the subject back to something more light

The most successful small talk conversationalists plan ahead for events they go to

  1. Make 3-4 topics in preparation as well as 4 generic questions to get others talking
    • Remember things about the host, such as personal passions or mutual interests
    • Read up on current events and news
    • Make questions that require a story, not answers
      • Things that require answers
        • How are you?
        • How was your day?
        • Where are you from?
        • What do you do?
        • What’s your name?
        • How was your weekend?
        • Would you like a drink?
      • Things that require a story
        • What’s your story?
        • What did you do today?
        • What’s the strangest thing about where you grew up?
        • How did you end up in your line of work?
        • What was the best part of your weekend?
        • Who do you think is the luckiest person in the room?
        • What does that house remind you of?
  2. Be the first to say “hello”
    • Smile first and always shake hands when you meet someone
    • If you’re uncertain if someone remembered your name, offer your name to ease the pressure
    • Take your time during introductions
      • Devote energy to remembering names and use them frequently
  3. Get the other person talking
    • Use a simple statement about the event or location and then ask an open-ended related question
      • The most common question is “what do you do?” but a more interesting variation is “what do you like to do?”
    • Keep asking questions about the person’s life
    • Talk in terms of their interests, not yours
  4. Stay focused on the conversation by actively listening and giving feedback
    • Listen more than you talk
    • Make the other person feel important, and in a sincere way
    • Watch your body language
      • Maintain eye contact and don’t glance around the room while they are talking
      • Act confident and comfortable even when you’re not
        • Being uncomfortable will make others feel uncomfortable
      • When talking about someone, don’t point at them or be too near to them
    • There are some very common ways to break the flow of conversation
      • Mirroring – by imitating the words the other person said, it paralyzes the discussion
        • e.g. “It’s a beautiful day!” – “Yes, it is a beautiful day!”
          • Mirroring follows the social norm, but it needs to be disruptive and original to be interesting: a better response is “That’s not what my horoscope said!”
      • Giving the expected response – often the obvious response is the most boring
        • e.g. “It sure is hot!” – “Yeah, it definitely is!”
          • It makes things predictable to the point of being forgettable: a better response is “In this dimension, yes.”
    • If someone hands you their card, accept it as a gift
      • Hold it in both hands and read what is written on it
      • Put it away in a shirt pocket, purse or wallet to show it is valued
    • Have something interesting to contribute
      • Current events and culture are usually well-received
      • Stay away from negative or controversial topics
      • Avoid adding any heavy details
  5. If you want to meet someone specific, try to get introduced by someone like a mutual friend that they respect
  6. Before entering into an in-progress conversation, observe and listen
    • Don’t ask about what everyone is talking about, just pay attention and see if you can follow it
    • If you are in a conversation that someone walks into, it is tactful to give a summary of what you were talking about
  7. Have a few exit lines ready in order to gracefully leave the conversation
    • The best time to leave a conversation is after leaving a good impression

Get a sense of humor

  • Humor is almost always built around pain
    • Most humor is very culture-specific, but all cultures have some sort of humor in them
    • If you have a hard time being funny, just think in opposites
      • The opposite of what is expected
      • The opposite of how people think or behave
      • The polar opposite of how anyone would react
    • Any joke or gag involves someone being legitimately hurt
      • In awful “groaner” jokes, the audience is the group being hurt!
      • Things that defy this rule of pain usually come from people who have a hard time with pain in themselves
        • If you observe the creators of those jokes with honest consideration, you’ll discover that they’re not that funny
  • Most professional comedians are actually only funny less than half the time
    • People will will remember one good joke more than a few bad ones
  • Use 2 or more of Scott Adams’ dimensions to create a funny idea
    1. Cuteness – puppies, children, kittens, etc.
      • Can be visual or just a lovable personality
    2. Meanness – cruelty in some way
      • It has to not only hurt, it has to be unfair
      • Dark humor is just an extreme of this dimension
    3. Bizarreness – surreal, but not unreal
      • It must maintain the suspension of belief that what is happening can really happen
        • Imagine a world where everything is the same except for one minor detail
    4. Recognizability – a familiar situation someone has been in
      • Varies heavily based on the audience
      • The more familiar, the less the other dimensions have to be
    5. Naughtiness – dirtiness, uncleanliness, lewdness, inappropriateness
      • The funnier the joke, the more you typically can get away with
    6. Cleverness – intuitive thinking
      • Exaggeration – blown out of proportion, way out of proportion
      • Play on words –puns
        • Add another dimension and use this sparingly to avoid “groaners”
        • For some reason, nerdy and analytical people typically like puns by themselves
      • Broken logic – a logical fallacy, but not completely random
        • The audience must be able to try “fixing” the problem
      • Connecting things that seem unrelated – two ideas that operate independently, but somehow “fit” together
  • Here are a ton of examples to get your creativity going

Try to avoid some of the dumb-sounding things people often say

  • Though you may not realize it, some phrases will imply that you aren’t intelligent or capable
    • Sometimes it takes only one bad choice of words to invalidate any image you were going for
  • Use “I” statements much more than “you” statements
    • “You” statements imply blame and are verbally pointing a finger
      • You don’t listen to me
      • What you did hurt me
      • You’re doing this again
    • “I” statements show personal responsibility
      • I don’t feel like you’re listening
      • I feel hurt at what you did
      • I don’t like what we are doing
    • A good middle ground is “We” statements, which share commitment to the group (only use if the group agrees)
      • We should resolve this
      • We can’t let this continue
      • We will get past this
  • There are some words that don’t exist or don’t have the specific meaning you’re looking for, research before trying any new phrases
    • Aks someone – slang for “ask someone”
    • Anyways – bad grammar, use “anyway”
    • Conversating – not a word, use “conversing” instead
    • Doing good – bad grammar, use “doing well” instead
    • Each one worse than the next – this means things were getting progressively better, it should be “each one worse than the last”
    • Expresso – not a word, use “espresso” instead
    • Extract revenge – to remove revenge, use “exact revenge” instead
    • For all intensive purposes – you actually mean “for all intents and purposes”
    • Hone in – to sharpen in, use “home in” instead
    • I could care less – You care a little bit, say “I couldn’t care less”
    • Irregardless – not a word, use “regardless”
    • Leadway – not a word, use “leeway” instead
    • Made a 360 degree turn – turned around fully where you actually meant “made a 180 degree turn”
    • Momento – Spanish for moment, you actually mean “memento”
    • The feeble position – You actually mean “the fetal position”
      • Regardless – disregarding or in no regards to
    • Nip it in the butt – you actually meant “nip it in the bud”
    • Old Timer’s Disease – actually meaning “Alzheimer’s Disease”
    • On accident – bad grammer, use “by accident” instead
    • One in the same – something is inside something else, you actually mean “one and the same”
    • Scotch-free – to not have a bottle of scotch, when you meant “Scot-free”
    • Sorta – not a word, you’re trying to say “sort of”
    • Statue of limitations – a constricting sculpture, which is different than “statute of limitations”
    • Unphased – to not have a phase, which is different than “unfazed”
    • You’ve got another think coming – you’ll have another thought soon, which is not “you’ve got another thing coming”
    • You guyses opinion – bad grammar, where you meant to say, “your opinion, guys”
  • If you do happen to say any of these and catch yourself in the middle of it, there are opportunities for humor in it
Next: Coexistence 103: The Unspoken Rules Of Society