Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, March 27, 2023
by Neil Senturia
So you think you are a good storyteller, a masterful conversationalist, able to hold a room silent, captivated, in the palm of your hand for an hour? Well, maybe, but don’t bet on it.
I am fascinated by behavioral economics. One key aspect of that field is communication, specifically how you frame and express ideas and how you can influence decision-making.
I have a few friends (not many, I will concede, but for the column today, just work with me) who exhibit some annoying conversational traits. I turned to Minda Zeitlin, author of “Career Self-Care,” to see if she could shed some light on the subject. Her theme is a simple one — it is “how you come across to others” that defines positive conversation, she writes. Here are her six habits to avoid.
Interrupting. This is the mother of all habits. You wait for a chance to insert your brilliance into the mix, and if there is no break in the action, then you just lob it in, sort of like a charging foul in basketball.
Interrupting is often seen as an expression of power, the boss interrupts the subordinate, never the other way around. No surprise, women get interrupted more often than men do.
If you have to interrupt (just want to point out that the building is burning), then do it, and apologize for interrupting as you run out the front of the building.
One-upping. This is the classic way to belittle the other person. You ran the race in three hours, the other fellow tells you he ran it in two hours and had a broken foot, and the last guy says he ran it in one hour and used crutches for the last three miles.
You know it when you see it, and it is terrible. Zeitlin says if you need to do this, at least acknowledge the other story first to indicate that you were listening. Then you can tell him that you ran the race backward and blindfolded.
Unasked-for-advice. Who asked you in the first place? I am happily married and allow me to share — sometimes your partner does not want any advice, input, guidance or ideas — all the partner wants is to express/rant. Your job is to listen. A sympathetic ear goes a long way. I assure you, if someone wants your advice, they will ask you for it.
A fellow in my sailing world feels the need to come over to our boat after a race and give me a complete replay and analysis of all the mistakes we made. Worse, like the Chinese finger trap, I can’t get away from him. He will track me to the bar, into the men’s room and into the cubicle.
But you just listen. Sometimes there is nothing you can do to help, and there is no easy answer. Just stay in the moment, be present and listen.
Looking at the bright side. It is a bad habit to always look on the bright side when in fact there is none. This is not helpful behavior. It negates reality. I have a flat tire on the I-5 in the morning commute, AAA can’t get to me for two hours and I miss the presentation for the series A financing.
But hey, look on the bright side, the tire is under warranty.
Being right. You do not need to win the argument. Of course, we both know that you are right, but trying to get the other person to agree with you is often a losing battle. A conversation is not a debate. Just keep the ball in play, and over time, “common ground” may emerge as in you like Trump, I don’t, but we both agree that the Reuben sandwich at the Cheese Shop is fabulous.
No air. I have a pal who does not take a breath between thoughts. There are no pauses. He just rolls. Best solution there is to just keep nodding (off).
And finally, when you know a decision is stupid, it is a still free country, so sure, go ahead and buy the plaid pants with the whales on them.
Rule No. 535: As I was saying …