by Ethan Glover, Fri, Dec 13, 2013 - (Edited) Fri, Dec 13, 2013
When I set out to read “A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation” by Daniel Menaker, I knew that I would want to do a review. Going in, I had great expectations. I usually assume anything published by Twelve Books is going to be extraordinarily enlightening. A Good Talk didn’t quite live up to those expectations, but it did make some good points, and I think it’s helped me provide the second missing half of what I wrote previously in Online Civility. While I did try and develop strategies of what to do and what not to do in that post, I don’t think it covered the whole picture. That is, it gave some technical groundwork and stressed the used of empathy and Theory of Mind. But it didn’t quite get to the heart of what makes some people more magnetic than others. I noted that everything we learn, we learn from others. Surely “magnetism” isn’t just some genetic outlier, right? Fortunately, it is not. It can be learned. Now, it should be said that the majority of the ideas for this article do not come from A Good Talk, I found the book to be very lacking in specifics, rather it formed the foundation for the research that would inevitably lead me to the ideas found below. Not to mention the last quarter of the book is mostly anarcho-syndicalist rants based in ignorance of what free trade is. However, that’s not important, what’s important is finding real conversation.
The first thing I should note is that people crave good conversation. It is something most of us are starving for, but we are either unwilling to admit it or don’t even realize it. Jonathan Mead, writer at Paid to Exist asked a question to his male friends. “What’s the one thing you feel was or is missing that’s held you back from becoming a man?” With an overwhelming majority, the responses had something to do with a painful absence of brotherhood or mentor-ship in their lives. This is something that resonates with a lot of people, not just men. Having a brotherhood that isn’t defined by having “bros” or guys you hang out with just to get wasted and chase women. Instead, something that is defined by surrounding yourself with quality and worthwhile people whom you know will have your back through thick and thin. Something that is more than beer slugging and fantasy football. I think modern men fall into this trap of having to watch football and talk about grilling in order to have acceptance, but what they don’t realize is that everyone in the room is probably, deep down, thinking the same thing. I can’t speak for women and will not attempt to, but I urge them to take this into consideration and try and adapt it to their own lives. Maybe through a few strategies you can create some wonderful, long lasting relationships that actually mean something.
This craving for brotherhood does not come from nowhere. Humans have been gathering together for thousands of years in groups in order to sharpen each other and grow through challenges, competition, and even through berating and insulting one another. Men especially do this because they are not very good at self-correction. They have a tendency to be stubborn. We need feedback and guidance from people we trust and respect. Coincidentally, we need people we can trust and respect. We need to witness the influential people in our lives as a way to learn and find our own solutions to our own problems. Finding people to provide this role for us can be as simple as being that role for others. Quid pro quo and voluntary relationships that can benefit everyone.
I don’t think that it is of any coincidence that isolation is one of the primary reasons for suicide. It stems from the need of brotherhood and camaraderie that makes us feel safe enough to express ourselves. In a world where many philosophical viewpoints are put down and dismissed, it can be a danger to the psychological and even physical livelihood to continue that and support it. As anarcho-capitalists, we need to recognize that we are one of the few philosophies that respects the moral beliefs of others and allows people to live out and learn from their own ideas rather than being forced along a single track. I believe that we have the capability of acting as role models to those who are experiencing isolation because they’re views are unaccepted by the general world around us. Through us, and through each other, they, and we, can help one another to grow to be strong, sensitive and courageous.
With that, I think it is important to take an active interest in the desires, dreams and goals of those not only close to you but around you. I’ve begun to do a series called “15 Questions”. I have talked to and learned from communists and libertarians, and I will soon be writing about a couple of conversations with liberals. I’ve got a lot from the conversations, and the way I see things is starting to become noticeably more well rounded and understanding of others. We need to encourage others to have good and normal discussions about their beliefs and ideas. We need to challenge them and push them to reach new heights. Push people to talk about their personal opinions and don’t let them pass their ideas on to quotes and books. Help them take charge of their own minds, to take a leadership role in who they are. And most importantly, teach all of this via example, be the mirror for others to learn from and grow from.
The following rules on etiquette come from a book called “A Gentleman’s Guide to Etiquette” by Cecil B. Haley. Being published in 1875, and this article being based on internet conversation at its core. I did have to pick and choose and make a few edits here and there but the point remains the same. The point is that the words you choose and the way you speak says a lot about who you are. It is a known fact that people can’t help but reveal themselves in the way they talk about others. It says more about who they are than it does the other person. Because of this, it is very important to watch what you say so as to not reveal the defects of your character.
First, Haley notes that even if you are convinced that your opponent in an argument is wrong, be willing to yield gracefully. Either decline further conversation or turn the subject into something new that you might be able to handle better. This is as opposed to defending yourself until you become angry which inevitably results in embarrassment. It is OK, and even recommended that you maintain a fixed political position based on your inner core values, but there is no need to express it where it is not needed. Don’t make it your goal to force your ideas on others, simply go where you are called and stay relevant to your situation, environment and company. If the occasion should arise, remember, it is better to allow somebody to say you’re wrong than it is to allow them to say that you are not a gentleman.
In your discussions, do not assume an “air of haughtiness”. Or to put it in simpler terms, don’t act arrogantly. Don’t speak in a dictatorial manner that shows an assumption that you are correct in anything you say. Always remain pleasant, friendly and frank. Instead of trying to impress others, just talk for the sake of learning and enjoying the unique and individual thoughts of others. If you limit yourself to your own expertise in the interest of looking intelligent, instead of paying attention to the other person and allowing yourself to fall into the role of the less knowledgeable, you will not only learn more but enjoy your conversations more.
Don’t try to keep the conversation on yourself, and don’t try to draw people out of a current conversation just so you can have him/her to yourself or so that you can maneuver your way into a position of personal comfort. A real man of intelligence may feel above those around him, but will never aim to make others feel their inferiority, and he will not try to display his advantages in knowledge. Instead, he will discuss things with a frank simplicity. Everything you say should be marked by humbleness and politeness to the feelings and opinions of others. This also means being as brief and modest as possible. Be consistent to the subject matter at hand, don’t go off on tangents and avoid the long speeches and tedious stories.
Speak of yourself as little as possible and instead allow your virtues to be discovered the hard way, naturally through your own expressions, don’t tell them to others. Let people discover who you are without the informative declarations. This of course goes the other way. There is no reason to express your own faults to others and won’t necessarily help you in your relationships. In others, it is important to not compare people, instead speak of them as individuals. Do not attempt to heighten the virtues of one person by comparing them to the vices of another. Allow people to stand solely on their own merits.
Going back to “Don’t Give Me Homework”, avoid using cliche phrases and use quotations only rarely. Quotes maintain their power, not through saturation but by being used in rare and unique cases. When quotes become a constant habit, they become tedious and in bad taste. Avoid the excessive concern with small details and rules. Constantly looking for the small faults that don’t touch the subject but rather “faults in thinking” or even worse, grammar, this signals to others your own stupidity and inability to handle the conversation. It’s OK to speak your own language but don’t be a stickler for correcting the language and phrases of others. At the same time, do not stubbornly stick to certain ways of talking about things. Find common ground first in language and advance from there. Avoid the technical terms, these are also in bad taste if you use them on accident, don’t explain the meaning unless asked. No one will appreciate your implications of ignorance. Of course, do not assume people can not handle “high subjects”. Invite people into discussions where possible, make them comfortable within that conversation, and if they decline to talk about it, gracefully show understanding and accept it.
Being the “funny” guy/buffoon, or excessively using sarcasm is not good for your dignity. In using these things, you are not only opening yourself up to constant disapproval and ridicule, but you can be sure that for every person that laughs with you, there are two laughing at you. For those who admire you, they will look at your antics with contempt. If you’re feeling a need to correct such behavior of others, don’t. Remind people if what they are saying to you is offensive, don’t be afraid to say so. But in general it is best to allow others to make their own mistakes.
Avoid speaking against the personalities of others and be especially careful with family matters. Don’t psychoanalyze them in public or with others. Assume that if someone tells you something about the skeleton’s in their closet that they are doing so in confidence. Do not speak of people as “her” or “him”, learn their names, and speak of them as such.
Finally, and especially on petty matters, yet on all matters, do not authoritatively offer advice as if it is your decision and as if it is personal to you when it is not. Again, mistakes and responsibility must fall solely on the shoulders of the actors.
What Your Words Say About You
Getting back to modern times, the above rules on etiquette still apply, maybe now more than ever. It is important to be conscious of the way you speak and the way you present yourself to others. This can be the difference between friend or enemy, knowledge or ignorance, reputation or exclusion. Pay attention to the people around you and respond to them rather than selfishly remaining in your own head. If someone is speaking in a grave tone, meet it with seriousness. If someone is being humorous, try a little wit. I will get to this later, and have done so previously, but avoid the sarcasm. Learn to use impudence with maturity and as a replacement where necessary.
Remember that your ability to converse, how you speak, what you talk about and the attitude you choose is a sign of mental health. It is known that when people spend long periods of time in prison camps, starving to death, they begin to talk less and less, and eventually not at all. Not being able to express yourself outside of saying what others have told you is a sign of isolation and poor communication health. The same can be said for those who excessively use sarcasm and cursing to lazily create comments of no value in an attempt to create conversation when they are unable to. Like a newborn crying for food, the sarcastic and vulgar cry for someone to give them something to talk about and show them how to do so.
Stephen Colbert, known for his tendency to say words and try to “coin” them, “coined” the word “conversationy”. This is a word to express conversations that are abbreviated, over-exclamatory, and pseudo-intimate. Like early morning talk shows in which nobody ever says, “Let me think about that for a minute.”, or “I’m not sure why I feel that way.”, many people are unable to think within their conversations. Instead, what they get is chatter, banter and self-congratulatory rants. There’s nothing wrong with claiming attention, so long as it comes to you. Trying to create attention through weak and unflattering back and forth will not help you or others. It can easily be said that such conversations are a waste of time and a sign that you are craving something real but are unable to get it.
If you want to create and have good conversations that are beneficial to you and your mental health, you’re going to need to do some work. If you’re going to be knighted, you shouldn’t expect the “knight” to come to you. This is like a parental wish. We are all children on the inside, and we must all fight to be the grown ups that we really aren’t. As I said in Online Civility, you must be willing to look at many discussions and debates as recreational boxing, you will get hit. Historically, a handshake was used to show that you are unarmed and friendly. The same concept goes for “touching gloves”. It shows that nothing is personal and that you are there for fun and mutual benefit.
3 Elements of Charisma
Finally, we get into the good stuff. Enough of what society is missing, why conversations suck and what we all crave. How do you create conversation, and how do you use that conversation to influence others positively and become a magnet for others looking for someone to look up to? Charisma. Developing charisma is a very important tool for commanding conversations, drawing people to you, and convincing them of your ideas. With it, you can be perceived as both likable and powerful. People will see you as a dynamic, irresistible person that opens endless amounts of doors for them and intellectual exploration. Like magnetism, which is nearly synonymous with charisma, it can be learned. Charisma can be practiced and made to seem natural. In “The Charisma Myth” by Olivia Fox Cabane charisma is defined in three categories. Presence, Power and Warmth.
We of course all know that people in general have become distracted by cell phones and the impossible idea of “multitasking”. Thanks to this, it is very easy to set yourself apart from others by simply giving them your complete attention and focusing solely on them. A lot of times, this will come of as a pleasant surprise and put you right on top of the “good people to talk with” list. Of course, charisma isn’t about making others think highly of you, it is about making them think that you think highly of them. Make the person you’re talking to feel important and make sure that when you’re done talking, they won’t immediately forget the discussion, but instead walk away with a sense of gained value.
Everyone wants to be recognized and acknowledged. Achieving that is just a matter of focusing your mental and emotional energy on them. This isn’t hard, and even introverts (such as myself) who become physically drained by socialization should be able to handle a few good discussions. Don’t worry about talking to everyone or being the center of attention. Having good charisma is about quality rather than quantity. You don’t need to be the life of the party to be seen as magnetic. That’s not to say that presence is an easy accomplishment. You can’t fake presence online or off. If you want to be “present”, you must take an active role in doing so.
If you’re feeling scatterbrained and can’t focus entirely on the person you are talking to, try taking a few seconds to focus on your own body. Focus on your breathing, or the feeling of your feet on the ground. Just something quick to bring yourself back to the reality and back to the situation at hand. Try to be comfortable both mentally and physically. If you’re annoyed about a tight collared shirt or cold temperatures, find a solution before responding and if you’re tired put the conversation off for awhile. With the internet it is especially easy to come back later, don’t feel as if you have to respond as soon as possible and don’t expect people to respond as soon as you do.
Just as it is rude in real life to look at your phone while you’re talking to someone, it is so with online interactions. Sure, they may not be able to see you, but if you’re jumping back and forth between a chat and reading a response, you’re probably not getting the full idea of what’s being said. The same goes for your own responses. If you don’t type it all out in the moment but instead split it up, you’re not going to look very focused or engaged.
Ask clarifying questions, don’t just tell people what they think and believe. Ask, “When you say X what exactly do you mean?” or paraphrase what was said and say, “Am I understanding you correctly?” Make sure you’re not making embarrassing, rude, or repulsive assumptions. Finally, don’t think about what you’re going to say before you’ve finished listening/reading what the other person has said. Make sure you hear them out and are responding to the full and entire ideas presented.
Our second of three elements is power. Power doesn’t mean being a leader or the CEO of some large company. It is about being perceived as someone able to have an effect on the world around you. While presence draws people in, power shows that you are a person who can get things done. Without a healthy balance between presence, power, and warmth, you are not going to be seen as charismatic. If you lack power, you’re just the nice guy. It you express too much power, you come off as an arrogant and cold jerk. There is a balancing act here, and learning to find a middle point is just a matter of practice. If you want to gain charismatic power, all you’ve got to do is fake it for awhile, and it should start to come to you naturally.
Start with confidence. Use self-assurance to draw people to you. Confidence in itself is a large topic but gaining it is as simple as mastering a single subject but maintaining curiosity of the thoughts and knowledge of others. Mastering a subject is helpful, not just in charisma but life in general. If you are the go-to expert in your area and if you’re willing to listen to and discuss the depths of the subject and answer any question, even if it seems stupid, you’ll begin to show and express power in no time.
At the same time, it is good to know a little about a lot. Being a “T-shaped man” involves having one area of mastery while understanding the basics on as many things as possible. Being able to have conversations on many topics and being seen as an intelligent person will make people look up to you and as someone who can affect the world around him. (This coincidentally means it would be beneficial to read a lot.)
Despite intelligence, it is still best to speak simply and less. Make sure your words are scarce and valuable like a diamond. If you’re always ranting, you will become less effective to people who listen to you after only a few conversations. Try practicing a little poise and grace by conveying stillness and stability in your words. This will help to make sure that people will listen to what you have to say. Remember that being powerful doesn’t mean being a jerk. Presence and warmth are still two equally important driving factors in developing charisma. At the same time, if you’re just the nice guy, people may find you likeable, but that doesn’t mean they find you fascinating or worthwhile.
Ah, warmth. With warmth people see you as approachable, caring, and empathetic. They feel comfortable and at ease when around you. Receiving warmth fulfills a need to be understood, acknowledged and taken care of. Even as independent adults responsible for our own lives, we still feel like being cared for, accepted, and at home. This is what warmth provides. Warmth without power makes you look weak, eager to please and desperate for approval. Warmth should be done for empathy’s sake, not so you can influence and change people. Unlike power and even presence, warmth is impossible to fake. Attempting to do so will result in repulsion by others. You have to put effort into developing real empathy and curiosity about other people. Even if you don’t’ get what you were looking for from a conversation, the person with warmth still looks at it as worthwhile.
To develop your warmth, it first helps to develop gratitude. For some people, something as simple as writing down what you’re grateful every day in a journal can be very beneficial in this respect. For those who get nothing out of that, there is the George Bailey technique. Instead of writing down what you’re grateful for, try writing down what your life would be like in the absence of something. What if you stayed a statist your whole life? What if you never came across your biggest influence? Alternatively, you can try and imagine the lives of those close to you if you had never existed and if you had never helped them or supported them during those key moments that made them close to you. Go crazy, think of everything!
After developing gratitude, it’s time to move on to empathy. Practicing empathy is a matter of recognizing that you have full Theory of Mind (ToM) and recognizing the person-hood and feelings of others. This is difficult to do on the internet, which just so happens to be the most trying ground for treating people as fellow human beings. Just try and remember that we are all part of the same race. Whether this means on religious grounds, on scientific grounds (tracing people back to a tribe in Africa), or things about stardust and universal connectivity. It doesn’t matter, the end conclusion is the same. We are all brothers and sisters.
This article is about online interactions, but if you want better conversations online it can help tremendously by going out and talking to people in the real world on a regular basis. This helps you to remember what your words and actions do to the facial expressions, body language and actions of others. Don’t get too far removed from these things and the effect you can have on others. Real world interactions aren’t the only external tool to utilize in developing warmth, studies show that reading fiction can help you develop empathy and ToM.
If someone says something that annoys you, try to imagine why they’re saying what they’re saying. This doesn’t give you permission to psychoanalyze them and attempt to steer the conversation towards personal flaws, but give them the benefit of the doubt. Give them every possible chance to have a polite conversation and if they refuse, simply tell them why you can’t continue in the most respectful manner or stop replying altogether. Be curious and aim to learn more about people. Don’t tell them who they are, don’t assume you know who they are. Be willing to ask what you want to know where appropriate. Again, ask clarifying questions and make it your goal to understand what makes them tick. If you’re not feeling empathetic towards this person, act the part anyways. The practice will still help you develop better attitudes and feelings towards others.
To act the part, think of yourself as the host in every situation. Try to make people feel comfortable as if they are strangers in your home. Try starting the conversation with a compliment, purposely look for good points brought up in the first reply or post and let the person know that you are not armed and willing to take on the conversation like a human being. While speaking, aim to use gentle language, don’t’ be pushy, just say what you know and allow the person to react to the facts rather than exaggerated and emotive ones.
If someone asks questions about your beliefs and you don’t know, say you don’t know. Don’t evade the question, try to reroute it to another point, or make stuff up. Tell them it’s a good point and note that you’ll put some thinking and research into figuring out the solution, including considering their points. Think of confusions as a chance to learn rather than a blow to ego. If you’re willing to help out in the thinking process by being open with what you do and do not know, and being understanding of what the other person does and does not know, you can develop and learn together. Similarly, ask questions yourself. This goes back to being curious, but treat some questions as if you’re asking a favor. “Help me understand this… this is what I know… this is what I don’t get…”
Finally, after the conversation, end on a lighter note. When the dust settles, ask about the research the other person did. Where did they find the info? How much time have they put into it? This is like when you ask a person about their drive. Create small talk to ease things back down after an argument or debate. And as always, say thank you. If someone puts effort into responding to you and answering your questions or claims, they obviously care about you that much. Show some gratitude!
CHI – Curiosity, Humor and Impudence
Alright, that’s a lot of do this, do that. I know, but it’s as short as I could make it without all the conversational babble to connect it together, so I apologize if all the points above seem a little authoritative, but I promise that its all effective and useful. From the header here, you may be thinking that I’m about to go over even more conversational elements! Don’t worry, this will be quick. I just wanted to end on a similar note that I did with Online Civility. A simple acronym to remember. I know, I already gave you one. (SCE) That’s the one I created. CHI is the other half that comes directly from Daniel Menakers “A Good Talk”. It is the positive compliment to SCE and rounds this story up well.
Curiosity. It is noted that Socrates’ constant questioning and probing of others may have made him look like he was out to prove something. Maybe he was seen as annoying. This is probably not true because history shows that he was legitimately curious and always listening and learning. Those who ask questions with an intent of gaining something won’t come off as pushy while those who ask to prove something or show off will.
Humor is an easy one. When we speak in lighthearted ways and with a smile on our faces, conversations are more enjoyable. This doesn’t mean sarcasm. We all know I like to avoid it, and that’s simply because it is generally unproductive. It means the willingness to have fun and see the light topics for what they really are. Even when you’re talking to someone that you disagree with at the very core.
Impudence is of course the most counter-intuitive item of the three. To be honest, using it is a hit and miss strategy. Either it works, or you upset someone. Using it correctly is a matter of understanding those around you, paying careful attention to unique cues and showing conversational nerve at the right moments. Maybe it’s not something you want to practice in real life but keep in mind instead. It’s just a matter of not being afraid of whom you’re talking to. If you know someone that’s always on the serious side, throw a careful joke out there and see if it sticks. Make fun of your boss on one of those slow days. This can be a great way to get on somebody’s good side where natural tension may exist. Impudence is the mature version of sarcasm and deserves careful consideration before being said. But hopefully, as you take in the elements laid out above, finding those “impudent moments” will become easier and easier.
And that’s it. Another long article on online conversation. Hopefully this will be the last, but don’t count on it! I hope you enjoyed it!