Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What Not to Say (Conversational Skills, Part One)

What follows are some basic tips on what *not* to do if you want to be an interesting conversationalist. You may say to yourself about each of these suggestions “that’s obvious,” but I challenge you to listen to yourself the next time you’re at a party and count how many times you start to do anything on this list.

Spouting Facts and Correcting People. Now, spouting facts can be interesting, but this is an advanced skill. It’s very difficult to do without coming off as a know-it-all. Believe me, everyone knows you’re the smartest person in the room. No need to prove it. Over and over again.

It’s all right to say occasionally “Oh, I thought that blah, blah, blah was true.” Notice the ‘I thought that’ phrasing. Use this expression even when you don’t *think* it--you *know* it--you’ll come off as less of a jerk. And take note of whether the other person is actively engaged with you about whether it was the first season or second season of when Galactica met the Battlestar Pegasus. If she isn’t doing any of the talking, she does not care. Move on. Whether it happened in the first or second season is not in any way the point of the conversation. If it is, you’re being a bore.

And, for God’s sake, never bring up the argument the next time you see the person, saying “Oh, by the way, I looked it up online and I was right.”

It comes down to this (you’ll hear me say this again and again): Would you rather be right all the time and spend your life alone, or be with someone? Lighten up.

Being Weird. Take note: being random is not interesting in and of itself. Let me repeat so you fully understand: being random is not interesting in and of itself.

When I was four years old, at any opportunity, I would stand up on something I had determined was a stage (the top of a staircase, a porch, a couch) and I would begin talking apropos of nothing. I called it “committing excesses.” Where I got that from I don’t know. At any rate, I thought I was fascinating and deserved to be the center of the universe as I spouted non sequitors and random facts and thoughts. And, okay, yeah, at four years old it was probably pretty adorable. Okay, yeah, *I* was pretty adorable.

I do not engage in this behavior now. Because, as I found out when I started school the next year, I am not, unfortunately, the center of the universe.

Do not add non sequitors to the conversation to “liven things up.” In fact, this usually kills a conversation because there is no real response to a non sequitor, except “Does not compute. Does not compute.” If you want to liven up a conversation, change the topic. This, of course, takes a lot more skill than blurting out some nonsensical comment, which is why you don’t do it (skillfully change the topic, that is). We’ll discuss how to change topics in a later post.

Do not talk about inappropriate topics, like masturbation (unless it is organic--I said, *organic*--to the conversation).

Do not tell racist jokes, or make sexist comments (not even just to “get a rise” out of someone).

Telling Details No One Cares About. Are you talking about something everyone does or experiences? These topics include: dealing with traffic, not being able to find a parking spot, doing laundry. Really any domestic chores.

No one cares.

You may say one sentence on the topic (“I was late because traffic was so bad”) and no more.

Unless you are skilled at being humorous while talking about missing the bus (or looking for orange jell-o), do not attempt to discuss these things. Humor is achieved by exaggerating (it was the worst experience ever) or making fun of yourself. Clue as to whether you are being funny or not: If you’re talking in a group, it is only humorous if at least two people are laughing. One doesn’t count--there will always be someone who just can’t help herself from being polite even though it drags out an anecdote that’s driving her crazy.

Up on Friday: More Things Not to Say in Conversation

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