Your mission should you accept it, speak only if spoken to for a week

Monday, 20 April, 2015

This might, I say again, might make for an intriguing personal challenge… if maybe you live alone, and likewise work by yourself from home… not talk to anyone for an entire week, unless they talk to you first. Not talking first also means there can be no instigating of communication via the likes of texting or email either.

Unless you also live on a deserted island, I think it’d prove incredibly difficult, to say the least:

I ride the train to work in San Francisco every day. I habitually say good morning to all the people in my neighborhood along my walk and politely say excuse me as I squeeze like a Tetris piece between other commuters on packed train cars. This week was different. I felt more closed off from neighbors; I couldn’t initiate conversation. I could wave, but that’s kind of awkward to do when you’re passing someone that is about eight inches away. It gives off more of a “talk to the hand” vibe than a cordial “howdy.” The commute was awkward every day of this experiment.

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A formula for politely ending a conversation

Tuesday, 20 January, 2015

The situation where you find yourself in what you deem to be a dead-end conversation, but cannot figure out a way to politely terminate proceedings. Well, guess what, there’s a scientific formula for doing just that:

Meanwhile, psychologists Stuart Albert of the University of Pennsylvania and Suzanne Kessler of SUNY-Purchase settled on a common formula for ending social encounters: Content Summary Statement, Justification, Positive Affect Statement, Continuity, and Well-Wishing. The translation, in everyday terms: “Well, we covered everything we needed to [Content Summary Statement], and I have another meeting [Justification]. I really enjoyed getting together [Positive Affect Statement]. Let’s do it again next week [Continuity]. Take care [Well-Wishing].”

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Let’s talk about not talking so much small talk

Tuesday, 21 January, 2014

Small talk can open all sorts of doors, and that’s no bad thing. But at what point should we consider taking this often inconsequential chatter to the next level, so to speak? It could be that an over reliance on small talk stifles the ability to partake of far more engaging conversation:

I’m worried that small talk keeps seducing bigger talk into its cozy corner, too slowly for us to object outright. Small talk is leaking into our practical interactions, blurring the bottom line. In an effort to seem personable and socially “with it,” our business transactions transform into these huge, mushy orbs that we have to dig through to gather the message. These interactions might be clouding our happiness.

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We eat and we party but no longer at the same time anymore

Wednesday, 12 December, 2012

The dinner party, once the highlight of the busy socialite’s week (or day), looks to have left the building, so to speak. Do we like to think that we have that much on now that there’s no time to sit down, face to face, over a good meal and make conversation?

Trained from birth or on the job, the best hosts of another era commanded their tables as though part of the European Theater of Operations, emplacing and deploying and juxtaposing guests in charged combinations, going to the rescue when conversation flagged and a combatant went down. Of course, they made sure the blowhard mogul was seated beside the lissome ingénue. What else is a dinner party besides a comic operetta without a score? But they also orchestrated every element of the evening, arrival to departure, most crucially directing the conversation, which they either allowed to follow a traditional serve-and-volley pattern (20 minutes right, 20 minutes left), or else commandeered for so-called “general discussion” as provocateur hosts like the television journalist Barbara Walters still do.

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And since we’re here talking, how do you talk on the phone?

Monday, 11 June, 2012

Is there a separate skill-set required for conversing by telephone, as opposed to doing so face to face? A question like this, assuming it is legit, causes me to think either there is – or more worryingly, though hopefully unlikely – that schools are not teaching students basic communication techniques.

That’s changed. I’ve made a couple friends who prefer talking on the phone. I suppose if you measure by how long you stay on the phone with them it’s not a total failure, but I feel like I’m flailing around trying to fill the silences and saying really inane stuff as a result, and I feel like my voice comes off badly and I stutter and just make things awkward. I don’t know how you’re supposed to make conversations flow when it’s so weirdly distant and impersonal and you can’t see the person, and the connection breaks up so you can barely hear them sometimes and ugh. This is a basic life skill and I feel like I missed out on whatever part of a girl’s upbringing teaches you to have hour-long (or more!) phone conversations. We do see each other in person sometimes, but the rest of the time?

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Calling cards for mobile phone calls that are all too revealing

Thursday, 25 August, 2011

shhh card

Whether someone nearby is on an actual mobile phone call in a public place or not, you shouldn’t have to be privy to the conversation, and this is where cards designed by the Society for HandHeld Hushing, or SHHH, could be useful.

Download your own cards from here.

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Would spontaneous Q&As enhance presentations at conferences?

Friday, 22 April, 2011

How do you like your conference presentations? Do you prefer a speaker deliver their talk uninterrupted, and then take questions afterwards, or should the audience engage with the speaker, that is ask questions, throughout the course of the presentation? Could such an idea be effective?

Think about the whole format of having Q&A at the end of a talk. If near the beginning of the talk you get an idea for a question you want to ask the speaker, you have to keep your mouth shut for the next half hour. All you’ll be thinking about is “OOH! OOOH! I have this brilliant question I want to ask!!!” And then at the end, you may not even get to the microphone in time to ask about it: some blowhard may hog the mic to sell his product or make a speech.

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Networking through one on one conversations over coffee

Monday, 21 February, 2011

Those who like to meet new people and network over a cup of coffee, but prefer to avoid the crowds some of the more organised coffee morning events draw, ought to check out Megan Gebhart’s year long project, 52 Cups of Coffee, whereby she arranges to meet someone new each week, in a get together that is of mutual advantage to both parties.

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Rejection, it’s not a second, it’s four seconds away

Thursday, 6 January, 2011

Awkward pauses or silences in conversation, the sort that usually arise as a result of one of the participants making what is deemed to be an inappropriate remark, in addition to embarrassment, bring about increasing feelings of rejection, anxiety, and low self worth, if the gap in the discourse lasts four or more seconds.

“Flowing conversations are associated with higher feelings of belonging, control, self-esteem, social validation and perceived consensus,” the researchers write. “Furthermore, disrupted conversations increase negative emotions and feelings of rejection, resembling ostracism experiences. This indicates that a brief disruption of conversational flow is interpreted as rejection, even when nobody is factually excluded from the conversation.”

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Fire up your cognitive abilities with some good conversation

Tuesday, 2 November, 2010

Curiosity appears to boost cognition after a study found that people who engaged in conversation in order to learn more about the person they were speaking to showed improved mental function.

They found that engaging in brief (10 minute) conversations in which participants were simply instructed to get to know another person resulted in boosts to their subsequent performance on an array of common cognitive tasks. But when participants engaged in conversations that had a competitive edge, their performance on cognitive tasks showed no improvement.

Go ahead therefore and chatter with your colleagues, you will in a way be doing your employer a favour.

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