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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Principles of (bad) conversations

1. We acknowledge one another as equals.

Remember to acknowledge everyone as equals, if you expect them to be able to listen intently (and so remember what has already been said), follow-up with what they have listened, and speak concisely and not hog air-time. But don't worry, because chances are that they won't,  so this is your opportunity to clobber the conversation.

The dangerous thing is to treat everyone as stupid or 'unequals', because if you do so, you will be too forgiving and patient to have a bad conversation.

2. We try to stay curious about each other.

Always wonder why on earth would they want so much to be right, since there are much more to learn from being wrong! Don't be fooled by their wanting to clarify themselves and that they have been frequently misunderstood.  Always be curious about why and how much ego they must have to not to want to listen to you, especially when you are older than them. Remember to insist that they are the egoistic one and not you. That way, you frustrate them and then they will blow up into a really bad conversation.

3. We recognize that we need each other's help to become better listeners.

This is your great opportunity to speak at length in your best English in complete sentences and to describe every nook and corner of your idea in monumental detail, to show others how clever you are and to teach others to be patient in listening. Reprimand them if they dare interrupt your speech. That way, they will have a lot of time to listen to you.

If you do this well enough, you may actually even get to listen to yourself. Learn how to speak general nothings in eloquent English, so that the conversation will still sound  impressive without getting into being good.

4. We slow down so we have time to think and reflect.

When the conversation is converging too quickly to a point, slow it down by throwing in some general statements to keep it divergent. Like, " there is no right or wrong answers", "there are many views and there are many ways of looking at them...", or "Over here, we all have different opinons, but we learn to accept everyone...".

But remember to say something that sits on high moral grounds and that is not contentious. The best way to do it is to quote from some famous motivational speakers and seminars you have attended. That way, you sound impartial and credible, and at the same time , throw everyone out of their tracks towards some understanding on converged points. So preferably, what you quote should be something out of context, otherwise you risk enlightening everyone. This is also to give them time to think and reflect instead of worshipping some singularly boring convergent 'truths'. 

5. We remember that conversation is the natural way humans think together.

Conversation and thinking are natural. They are as natural as crying out loud or walking over to the other person who disagrees with you and giving him one-tight slap! So don't break the spontanaeity. Even if you know that some speakers are spewing utter rubbish and wasting everyone's time, BE NATURAL! DON'T BREAK THE SPONTAENITY!

6. We expect it to be messy at times.

Yes! This is when you congratulate those who crack vulgar and irrelevant jokes at critical points of the discussion. Tell them that they are helping the rest of us get out of our tunnel visions and out of the box. Not doing so will allow everyone to flow too well into a good conversation. No, no, no, we can't have that!

Lastly, there is this mother of all principles of (good and bad) conversations. In fact, if you master this one, there may be no conversations to start off with. It goes:

"Maturity begins when we're content to feel we're right about something, without feeling the necessity to prove someone else is wrong."    --  Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986)

Note: This post is a parody of "Principles of Conversation". It shows that we can also learn from negative demonstrations. Also, points made on politically correct high moral grounds can still be twisted anyway you want if there is malice. I hope this article can be taken in the spirit of learning, albeit an unusual one. In other words and in the context of this post, the essential ingredient of a good conversation is compassion. Compassion = kindness + wisdom.

ps. Wrote this on my iPhone while waiting for relatives to visit me on Chinese New Year's Day.  As you probably suspect, nobody came!!  Guess they don't like bad conversations!

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