Coexistence 102: Making Conversations

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Coexistence 101: Respecting Others

Language is symbolic and connects words to indirect meanings

Vocabulary, accent, and style of speaking

  • Gives credibility and status
  • Provides some identity
  • You can adapt styles to connect with specific groups

How we state words creates implications

  • Hedges (not saying something directly)
  • Polite forms of statements
  • Leading questions (e.g. “you’re not hungry, are you?”)
  • Disclaimers (apologies in advance)
  • Discriminatory language (classifies a group as better or worse)

The way we speak dramatically changes our meaning

Where we speak from

  • We can speak from the nose or throat, but the most authoritative speaking comes from the chest

The way our voice feels can convey gentleness, softness, harshness

How we vary our tone

  • A monotone will bore people to leave or fall asleep
  • Don’t make a sentence sound like a question by intoning upwards at the end

The speed and pacing of speaking

  • Pauses and silence can be very effective or very awkward

A voice’s pitch brings the tone and emotions upward or downward

How loud we speak

  • Loudly speaking excites and energizes people, but frequent loudness reduces its effect
  • Softly speaking makes people pay close attention

Pronunciation, articulation, and dialect

  • Watch for sounds that don’t translate into words

We also communicate through how we use the space around us

As we speak, the body can convey involvement, attitude, and our feelings about statements

Our touching behavior

  • Use touch appropriately
  • Generally, the closer the relationship the more touching is involved
  • Too much touching can upset people and trigger their boundaries
  • Too little touching can make people distrust you and feel alienated

Our use of time

Our use of space

  • Intimate space is under 18 inches
  • Personal space ranges from 18 inches to four feet
  • Social space is from four feet to twelve feet
  • Public space is anything farther than twelve feet

Even the environment we’re in changes our message

  • Seating arrangements
  • Furniture
  • Color
  • Lighting
  • The number of other people around

The group’s shared beliefs, behaviors, and values can change a message as well

  • Gender or sexual orientation
  • Disability or talent
  • Ethnicity or national origin
  • Age or appearance
  • Religious or political affiliation
  • Geographic location
  • Group membership or educational level

What you’re saying isn’t as important as how and when you say it

You have an impact on others, but you need to deliver the correct effect with skillful precision

Saying things brings them into existence in others’ minds and affirms your thoughts

We often overlook our real impact on others

You can direct and focus your influence easily if you’re mindful of the power you hold

THINK before you speak

Only speak TRUE ideas and avoid fabrications or hearsay

Your ideas must be HELPFUL to the audience

Only share INSPIRING ideas with a call to action

Only communicate what’s NECESSARY for success

Phrase the tone in a KIND way

Only share thoughts with others interested in them

Someone who doesn’t care will hear you but won’t listen

  • You’re wasting your time if you’re trying to convince someone to listen

You won’t try to convince them about what they don’t want to hear if you honor their boundaries and respect yourself

  • People will resent what you do if you push past their indifference

Share only one or two ideas at a time

Deliver speaking with quality over quantity

  • Until someone asks, provide less information when speaking
  • The most effective speakers share a few ideas very powerfully

Too many details become confusing and imply that you don’t believe what you’re speaking

  • Too many points will cause the audience to tune out quickly

Focus on “why” far more than “what” to cut out ideas

Observe how your voice sounds

Speak at a reasonably similar volume to those around you

Vary your tone to your feelings to keep ideas interesting

Convey a positive attitude through your voice’s tone

Speak articulately and avoid mumbling

Speak slow enough to where everyone can understand but fast enough to stay engaging

Specific words you emphasize will change the entire meaning of the sentence

  • I was born in Australia – as opposed to the listener born somewhere else
  • was born in Australia – implies offense at someone denying that fact
  • I was born in Australia – declares being a native and not a newcomer
  • I was born in Australia – as opposed to outside Australia
  • I was born in Australia – as opposed to New Zealand

Speak from the chest and not from the throat or nose

Pick a time and place with few distractions

A low-distraction environment isn’t always attainable

Make an appointment by asking “what’s a good time?”

  • Asking “is this a good time?” is only appropriate for emergencies

If you’ve stumbled into a bad time to speak, back away

  • People stop listening if you say “this will only take a second”
  • Re-schedule the discussion later, not immediately

Accommodate your message to match the listener

The skill of adapting a message comes only through trial and error

  • Practice as often as you can with a variety of people

Before sharing, learn their perspective and attitude

  • Everyone wants to hear from you after feeling listened to themselves
  • Use examples that line up with the background you’re talking to
  • If that person is conditioned to tune out, find someone else they trust and respect to introduce you

Observe their personality

  • Dominant and direct people want the point as quickly as possible and hate any pleasantries or small talk
  • Engaging and friendly people can lose sight of the goal you’re trying to communicate, so don’t lose their focus
  • Calm and peaceful people want casual conversation and an even tone
  • Detail-minded and analytical people desire as many facts and details as possible

If you’ve accidentally offended someone, apologize and leave

  • There is no backing out of offense until they’ve mentally forgiven you on their own time

Your stress level affects theirs, so learn confidence in yourself

Small talk is the most frequent form of communication

Small talk is shallow, as its name implies, but it is critical for society

  • Small talk fills the silence most people find discomforting
  • Small talk is a necessary ritual for harmony with others
  • Small talk doesn’t offend or cross boundaries

Some things are never small talk

  • Intimate relationships and sex
  • Death, morbidity, and significant medical problems
  • Personal gain that outpaces anyone else’s
  • Business opportunities, especially sales or a small business
  • Secrets, especially other people not in the conversation

Some cultures see specific topics as off-limits for small talk

  • Age and weight
  • Ethnic origin
  • Family or marital status
  • Salary, income, financial information or money problems
  • Politics and controversial social issues
    • Sometimes you can’t criticize what others are criticizing
  • Religious views or philosophy
  • The economy, the stock market or current events
  • Anything that can offend someone’s nationality or criticize royalty
  • Any compliments that may look like flirting

Small talk is a safe way to observe others

Trust is a commodity, and small talk allows exploration without providing trust

  • Small talk is light enough in its content and depth that people don’t learn much about you
  • Even the most influential people in the world start conversations with petty subjects to test others

Small talk separates out people with unhealthy communication habits

  • Gossiping about others’ bad traits removes their credibility and shows you can’t trust them with secrets
  • Judgmental behavior shows they will make false conclusions and become the source of others’ unhappiness
  • Sharing negative thoughts demotivate any group they’re in and inspire others not to listen
  • Complaining shows they’re more focused on finding excuses and blame than on finding solutions
  • Exaggerations insult the seriousness of words and show someone can’t be trusted to tell the truth
  • Dogmatic beliefs show an inability to distinguish between facts and opinions
  • If they give excessive details, they will have a difficult time relaxing and having fun

Small talk is counter-intuitive for some people

  • Detail-oriented people want to share more information about their passions
  • Philosophical people are often impatient about small talk when they want to talk about more profound subjects
  • Thoughtful people are more accustomed to silence than the rest
  • Emotionally secure people usually hate circumventing apparent concepts
  • Socially awkward people tend to break small rules talk without realizing it

Making small talk is not as hard as it seems

Small talk topics come from a variety of sources

Introduce yourself or someone you know

  • Don’t introduce someone you’ve just met unless they can benefit from the introduction

Complimenting someone

  • Only compliment in a way that they can’t misunderstand as insensitive, discriminatory or flirtatious
  • Every affirmation is a variation of a few more in-depth statements
    • I love or 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

  • School or work
  • Workplaces
  • Career or job aspirations
    • Don’t ask how a job search is going unless they’re starting a job soon

Tell jokes or funny stories (discussed later on this page)

  • To make a punchline work most effectively, don’t laugh at it

Compare and contrast lifestyles

  • Hobbies and interests
  • Family
  • Friends and shared connections

Share about portions of your personal life

  • Likes and dislikes
  • Childhood dreams
  • Hometown
  • Plans, hopes, and dreams
  • Goals and accomplishments appropriate to the listener

Talk about events elsewhere in the world

  • Current news stories if they’re not controversial
  • Other people (keep it positive)
  • Comment on the current situation or venue
  • Holidays in the past or future
  • Weather

Talk about entertainment

  • Music
  • TV and movies
  • Books and magazines
  • Sports
  • Fashion and trends
  • Celebrities

Have the right attitude for small talk

Talk about what they want to talk about, not what you want

Nobody is good with names, and remembering someone’s name honors them

Everyone loves compliments

Everyone is as afraid as you are to engage with others

Learning to listen is far more important than being able to talk

About 2/3 of small talk involves people in some way

  • Small talk only becomes gossip when it gives a reduced image of someone

Pretend you’re talking to a close friend

  • Focus on that person exclusively and not on anything else around you
  • Make connections by sharing things that relate to what they’re saying

Assume the best in others

  • Since people can read feelings, you must be genuinely happy and excited to connect with them

Properly manage when someone wants to talk more deeply

  • Designate a better time or place for the more in-depth conversation
  • If the situation doesn’t permit more thorough discussion or you don’t want to discuss it, try to change the subject to something lighter

The most successful conversationalists plan their events

1. Prepare three or four topics and four generic questions to get others talking

Remember things about the host like their passions or mutual interests

Read up on current events and news

Make questions that require a story instead of short answers

  • Questions that require answers
    • How are you?
    • How was your day?
    • Where are you from?
    • What do you like to do?
    • What’s your name?
    • How was your weekend?
    • Would you like a drink?
  • Questions 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”

Hold drinks in your left hand to avoid greeting with a cold or wet handshake

Smile first and always shake hands when you meet someone

  • Smile genuinely
    1. Think of something funny
    2. Think of someone you like or love
    3. Squint while making your smile
  • Shake hands firmly but softly to show you’re both confident and inviting

If you’re uncertain if someone remembered your name, ease the pressure by stating your name again

Take your time during introductions

  • Devote energy to remembering and frequently using names
  • If you forgot someone’s name, ask for it again and then ask for their last name after they’ve given their first name
  • If you’re giving a high-five, look at the other person’s elbow to never miss

3. Get the other person talking

Make a simple statement about the event or location and then connect it to an open-ended 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 their life

  • If they ask you about your life, stay mindful of what they’re interested in when sharing details about yourself

Talk about their interests, not yours

4. Stay focused on the conversation by actively listening and giving feedback

Listen more than you talk

  • Sincerely make that person feel important

Distill information down to what matters to them

Watch your body language

  • While they’re talking, maintain eye contact and avoid glancing around the room
  • Act confident and comfortable even when you’re not
    • Your discomfort will make others uncomfortable
  • Mimic their body language to show you’re interested
    • Usually, people mimic body language a few seconds after the other person
  • When talking about someone, don’t point at them or stand close enough to them where they can hear you

Don’t break the flow of conversation

  1. Avoid mirroring
    • You paralyze the discussion when you imitate the words the other person said
    • e.g., “It’s a beautiful day!” – “Yes, it is a beautiful day!”
    • Mirroring follows the social norm but is only interesting if it’s disruptive and original
    • e.g., a better response is “That’s not what my horoscope said!”
  2. Don’t give the expected response
    • The most apparent answer is often the most boring
    • e.g., “It sure is hot!” – “Yeah, it sure is!”
    • Expected responses are predictable to the point of being forgettable
    • e.g., a better answer is “In this dimension, yes.”
  3. Stringing thoughts together
    • Slamming ideas together doesn’t give the opportunity for the other person to speak or think
    • Take ideas one at a time and let them control the conversation more

If someone hands you their card, accept it as a gift

  • Hold the card in both hands and read it
  • Put the card away in a shirt pocket, purse or wallet to show you value it

Have something interesting to contribute

  • Try to find a common interest with the other person
  • People are usually comfortable with current events and culture
  • Avoid negative or controversial topics
  • Don’t add excessive details

5. Navigate how you want to meet someone specific

If you have a mutual friend that person knows, try to get them to introduce you

6. Observe and listen before entering into an in-progress conversation

Don’t ask what everyone is talking about

Pay attention and see if you can follow the conversation

If someone else walks into your conversation, summarize what you were talking about

7. Prepare a few exit lines to leave the conversation gracefully

Leave a discussion after you’ve left a good impression but before you’ve disagreed on something

Keep your cap if you lend someone your pen since people don’t usually keep pens without their cap

Get a sense of humor

Most humor is culture-specific, but all cultures use humor

Humor usually involves pain

  • Any joke or gag requires someone getting harmed in some way
  • In awful pun jokes, the injured group is the audience
  • Many people who can’t accept the pain in humor have challenges with pain in themselves

Most professional comedians are only funny less than half the time

  • People will remember a great joke far more than several bad ones

If you have a difficult time thinking of humor, think in opposites

  • The opposite of what everyone expects
  • The opposite of how people think or behave
  • The opposite of how anyone would typically react

Create a funny idea with two or more of Scott Adams’ dimensions (the more, the better)

  1. Cuteness
  • Puppies, children, kittens, adorable animations
  • They can either be visual or a lovable personality
  1. Meanness
  • Some form of cruelty or injustice
  • Though it must hurt, it must also be unfair
  • This dimension at its most extreme is called dark humor
  1. Bizarreness
  • Must be surreal, but not unreal
  • It must keep others’ belief that it could theoretically happen
  • Imagine a world where everything is the same except for one minor detail
  1. Recognizability
  • A familiar situation someone has been in
  • Familiarity varies significantly from person to person
  • The more familiar, the less you need the other dimensions
  1. Naughtiness
  • Naughty things can be dirty, unclean, lewd or inappropriate
  • The funnier the joke, the more you can get away with
  1. Cleverness (intuitive thinking that employs creativity)
  • Exaggeration – blown way out of proportion
  • Play on words –puns
    • Nerdy and analytical people typically like puns alone
    • Use this sparingly and add other dimensions to avoid “groaners”
  • Broken logic
    • A broken logic joke can’t be fully random since the audience has to “fix” the problem
  • Connecting unrelated things that seem related
    • Two ideas that operate independently but somehow fit together

Here are many examples to inspire your humor

Avoid sounding unintelligent

Some phrases imply you aren’t intelligent or capable

One poor choice of words can invalidate any built-up image

Use “I” statements much more than “you” statements

“You” statements imply blame and verbally point 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”

“We” statements are a healthy middle ground that shares commitment to the group (but only if the group agrees)

  • “We should resolve this”
  • “We can’t let this continue”
  • “We will get past this”

Some words don’t exist

Aks someone – “ask someone”

Alot – “a lot”

Conversating – “conversing”

Expresso – “espresso”

Irregardless – “regardless”

Leadway – “leeway”

Momento – “memento”

The feeble position – “the fetal position”

Regardless – “disregarding” or “in no regards to”

Sorta – “sort of”

Unphased – “unfazed”

You guyses opinion – “your opinion, guys”

Other words are terrible uses of grammar

Anyways – say “anyway”

Doing good – “doing well”

Extract revenge – “exact revenge”

Hone in – “home in”

Old Timer’s Disease – “Alzheimer’s Disease”

On accident – “by accident”

Scotch-free – “Scot-free”

Some phrases have devolved into confusing figures of speech

Each one worse than the next – “each one worse than the last”

For all intensive purposes – “for all intents and purposes”

I could care less – “I couldn’t care less”

Made a 360 degree turn – “made a 180 degree turn”

Nip it in the butt – “nip it in the bud”

One in the same – “one and the same”

Statue of limitations – “statute of limitations”

You’ve got another think coming – “you’ve got another thing coming”

Research before trying any new phrases

If you do happen to catch yourself speaking poor grammar, make a joke of it

Next: Coexistence 103: The Unspoken Rules Of Society