Tips on conversation: Part 2

Talking about touchy subjects ends in absurdity often, violence sometimes and cohesion rarely.

There’s an old saying, “Never talk about politics or religion.” This is because nobody has the exact same beliefs, and we tend to defend our beliefs more than we question them. We behave this way partly because we’re cognitive misers and party because we’ve been indoctrinated not to question certain topics. Either way, talking about those topics is more likely to end in conflict than cohesion. However, people are more likely to avoid conflict than jump at the chance to escalate it. So you’ll probably spend the whole conversation dancing around taboos, trying not to offend each other.

The whole exercise was probably futile to begin with, because most people only have a vague idea what they believe. So the deeper you dig, the more excuses and flimsy justifications you’re likely to find than useful or interesting knowledge.

Disagree respectfully.

By some people’s definition, an enemy is anyone who disagrees with them. Yet, everyone disagrees with everyone on something. If you perceive disagreements as battle lines, you’ll have to go war with everyone, and the only thing that would accomplish is making enemies out of all your potential allies and friends.

The chances of you changing anyone’s mind about anything are slim. The odds fall to zero the moment you speak disrespectfully towards them, but the more polite you are, the more kindly they’ll have to view you and your ideology.

Even if you can’t convert them on the spot, you may plant a seed that will germinate later. Regardless, you can still win their respect by treating them with respect and presenting your arguments professionally.

The only person who wins an argument is the one who learns something.

Since you’re unlikely to change people’s minds about anything, and it usually doesn’t really matter whether or not you do, the only thing you stand to gain by arguing is learning something yourself. And since arguments usually happen when both people are half right, the fact that you’re arguing in the first place, probably means you need to learn something. Fighting the other person is the worst way to accomplish that goal.

Accepting responsibility for your actions will get you out of trouble better than making excuses.  

The topic of hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations you’ll have throughout your life will be about how you did something wrong. People tend to instinctively defend themselves when criticized, which is one of the worst things a person can do to themselves. When people say to your face, that you did something wrong, they’re almost always at least half right. Their criticism is like a gift from God, because it warns you what’s wrong with you and tells you what you need to fix, before you suffer any real consequences. Getting defensive and/or fighting the people who try to hold you accountable is like fighting a doctor who is trying to remove the knife you stabbed yourself with.

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who make excuses and those who don’t need to. The more excuses you make, the less people will take you seriously. If you want to impress people, then listen to them, and admit when you’re wrong. You might think weaseling out of accountability lets you save face, but it really just makes you look like a weasel. If you accept responsibility for your actions, admit when you’re wrong and fix your flaws, the people you once disappointed will come to look up to you.

 Take advice. 

You can learn how to fix your flaws before they get you in trouble. You probably ask people for advice all the time. The more you bitch about your problems, the more advice people are going to give you whether you want it or not, because that’s the only way they can unburden themselves of the problems you’re dumping on them. People’s advice is rarely 100% true, but it’s also rarely 100% useless. You have nothing to gain by rejecting advice and everything to gain from embracing it.

Don’t give much advice.

Everybody needs advice, but people rarely take it, even when they ask for it. Trying to give someone advice, or expecting them to take it, almost always ends in nothing but frustration for the giver. You’re more likely to burn a bridge than save a life. I’m not saying you should never give people advice. I’m just saying, be aware that you’re playing with fire. If you start to see smoke coming out of the other person’s ears, stop.

Ask for advice. 

People like to give advice, as long as you listen to them and take what they say to heart. It’s flattering and creates a meaningful connection between the confidant and confessor. Plus, it just feels good to help people.

This is convenient, because you need advice. You’re so lost, you don’t even know how lost you are. Everyone around you is a treasure chest of information waiting to be opened. Not asking for advice is leaving money on the table.

Don’t let people constantly dump their problems on you. 

You should try to help whoever you can, because all life is equally valuable. So it’s as good to help others as it is to help yourself. This also means it’s important for you to make the most of your own life, and it’s a waste of your invaluable time and energy to coddle people who just want to bitch about everything with no intention of changing anything.

It doesn’t even help the person with the “apocalypse of the week,” because it enables their parasitic behavior. As long as they have a willing host, they’ll stay an emotionally crippled parasite forever, guaranteeing their trivial problems will always be your emergencies.

People tend to mimic your emotional tone.

Humans learn about the world by mimicking others. Even as adults, we’ll stand up if everyone in the room stands up. It’s almost impossible to frown in a room full of laughing people, and it’s just as hard to laugh in a room full of crying faces.

Behavior is contagious. This doesn’t mean you always act like the last person you spoke too, but you will get swept up in their emotion. For example, if you meet someone who is crying, you’re going to react with sadness. If you someone screams at you, you’re going to want to scream back. When someone shows you kindness and love, you’re probably going to be nice to them.

If you want people to like you and be nice to you, then approach them with happiness and friendship. If you want someone to listen to you, don’t scream at them. If you don’t want people to be stressed out and anxious around you, don’t act like everything is always hopeless.

Everyone uses and reacts to emotional tones differently.

As children, we tend to assume everyone is more or less exactly like us. We reason that if we’re all human, then we must all express emotions the same, but we’re all unique snowflakes when it comes to that. For instance, you’d think you could judge how mad a person is by how loud they raise their voice, but some people shout when they’re not mad, while other people perceive any outburst over a whisper to be apocalyptic.

It’s harder than you’d think to accurately assess people’s emotional state or intentions. So it’s a generally good idea to stay on guard not to let yourself get swept up by people’s emotions. Hear them out while wearing a dumb leopard expression on your face. If there really is an emergency, getting swept up in their hysteria won’t help you fix it. On the same token, don’t shout at people or react to minor inconveniences with excessive emotion. Even if you’re calm in your head, you’re freaking everyone out.

Don’t interrupt.

You’d think it goes without saying not to interrupt people when they’re talking, but it happens every day, because the point of being rude is you don’t think about how your actions affect other people.

Look at conversations from the other person’s point of view. They’re in it for what they can get out of it. They probably feel insecure and want to prove their worth. They’re just hoping someone validates their existence by saying their name and complimenting them. No matter how you look at it, they just want to have an experience that makes them happy.

When you interrupt someone, you may as well stop the whole conversation, point to the person you just interrupted and declare whatever they’re saying isn’t important because they’re not important. Then carry on the conversation.

Nobody deserves to be made to feel unimportant. It’s unjust and will probably make an enemy out of the person you cut down. Plus, observers are more likely to view you as rude, than as the savior of the conversation.

You don’t have to lie to kick it.

Lying to make yourself look better never works in the long run. Eventually people will see what you’re doing and lose respect for you. If they do believe all your outlandish stories, they’ll resent you for making them feel inferior or just for talking about yourself all the time.

People don’t stay friends with the people who impress them the most. They stay friends with the people they’re most comfortable around and don’t have to compete with. If you believe you need to constantly impress your friends, the problem is either in your head, or you need new friends.

Cops, blood, sex and drugs.

If you’re ever in a group that’s either struggling to keep a conversation going, or the topic is boring, ask if anybody has any good stories about themselves or a friend involving cops, blood, sex and/or drugs. You’d be surprised how many stories everyone has involving those topics. They’re as fun to tell as they are to hear. Plus, it creates a meaningful connection with people when they share mildly taboo information about themselves. However, the more formal the social gathering, the more inappropriate it would be to raise these topics.

Always have a few jokes up your sleeve.

Jokes are always enjoyable, but it’s rare to hear one person tell more than five jokes in a single conversation. Anyone can memorize five jokes to have ready. You don’t need to tell a joke in every conversation, and you certainly shouldn’t tell the same five jokes every time you talk. Tell a joke if someone asks, if it’s relevant to the current topic or to bridge a silent gap in conversation. People will like you for it, and your conversation will be more fun.

You are what you talk about.

If all you ever talk about is children’s cartoons, then that’s what your mind will consist of. If all you ever talk about is how angry you are about injustice, you’ll live in a bitterly unjust universe. If all you ever talk about is pop culture, your life will amount to a television commercial. If you spend your whole life bitching about other people, then you fit the definition of a bitch.

If you always speak nicely to people, you’ll feel nice, and you’ll have nice memories to look back on. If you ask everyone for advice, your mind will fill up with superpowers. If you meet people from all over the world and listen to their stories, you internal universe will become as colorful as a Holi festival.

Mind your karma ghosts.

The emotional impact of how you treat people lasts long after you’re gone. If someone walks away from you happy, they’ll probably be nicer to the next person they meet. If someone walks away from you angry, they’ll probably be meaner to the next person they meet. The bigger an impact you have on people, the longer they carry the ghosts of your actions with them. The memory of a single conversation with you could pop up in their mind periodically for the rest of their life, bringing those old feelings back to the surface, like a ghost from the past haunting them.

Your actions have ripple effects that extend across time and space. Every time you make someone feel good, you make the world better. Every time you make someone feel bad, you make the world worse.

Mind your appearance.

The cleaner and more professional you look, the more professionally people will assume they should interact with you. The more sexually attractive you are, the more people will try to woo you and overlook your flaws.

The sloppier you dress, the less seriously people will take you. The more you dress like a stereotypical violent criminal, the more people will be afraid of you. The blander you dress, the less you’ll excite people.

The weirder you look, the more likely people are to reject or dismiss you, which can be a blessing or a curse, because the more you look like the person you’re talking to, the more likely they’ll accept you… and hold you accountable to the cultural standards and values of people who dress like you. In other words, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, but if you don’t want to be held to Roman standards, don’t dress like a Roman, but don’t be surprised when the Romans don’t accept you.

Surround yourself with people who enjoy talking about the same things as you. 

Conversation is an opportunity to learn, have fun and build connections. If you’re constantly bored by the conversations you have with the people in your life, then you probably need to surround yourself with new people who want to talk about the same things as you. Life is too short, and the potential for joy is too great, to spend time with people you don’t find interesting.

Cutting people out of your life doesn’t mean you think you’re better than them. There’s no such thing as “the best people.” There’s just the best people for you. The people you’ll enjoy talking to the most tend to be the ones who share most of your interests as strongly as you.

If you liked this post, you may like these:

Tips on conversation: Part 1

Advice on relationships

Advice on living


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