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Posts Tagged ‘How-To’

Becoming adept at conversation; 5 tips that work even if your subject matter sucks.

In Becoming, life on October 20, 2015 at 1:42 pm


“Power off”

A woman, 30s, sort of a Demi Moore look to her, though less refined, walks into the elevator with me, talking to her phone.

Just the two of us, in a slow elevator.

“Power off

I smile, press the buttons, and

Power off

She’s fixated on her phone. My inner monologue starts writing itself, mostly in question form. Isn’t it easier to power off manually? I notice her nails are almost an inch long – how does she do anything? Okay, maybe it’s easier to voice-command. Does she use Siri for everything? Does Siri ever work well? Remember that time Siri responded to us, saying that she didn’t have the maps for Malaysia when we were trying to look for the closest metro station in DC? I’ve never used Siri since, though I almost got to be her voice in China. Ugh, imagine that, I’d be the bane of every iPhone user’s existence. Well, at least my Father would hear my voice this way.

Power off

Okay. I look over to her, awkward forced smile. Well, she’ll just have to go to the same floor as me. 

“It’s a new phone, I’m trying to turn it off, it’s telling me to swipe, it’s not working.” My awkward smile exchanged for a generous few seconds of her attention before she went back to her phone, forcefully pressing it, in all the wrong places, it seems.

“Isn’t it easier to turn it off manually?” Too many questions in my head, eventually one made it out.

“How do you do that?”



Surprisingly, in the ever advanced world we live in today, we lose our abilities to do simple things, like turning off devices, and well, talking. Being sociable could mean a lot of things, but a good conversationalist it does not equate to.

We talk via our tech, into our tech, and with our tech, making real conversation with real people, in real time, less frequent occurrences. Few do it; even less do it well, because most people are out of practice. Sounds like a Millennial concern, which in 2015, counts for a heck of a lot.

In my experience, the best conversationalists are lecturing professors and children – which goes to show that it’s not about subject matter. I’ve sat through dreadful lectures and avoid children whenever possible. Content is important, certainly, it’s why we force ourselves through misery to consume mediocre shit. But conversing is an artform heavily shaped by style, and dictated through behaviour. It’s a thing of beauty, really, and once you’ve experienced beauty, anything less becomes mediocre.

A handful of seemingly simple things to try. Rudimentary? I’d go with foundational.

I. Listen

Two ears, one mouth.

Beyond basic math, a Google search with “listening skills” will yield 17,700,000 results in just half a second. Why so much material? Because we don’t, and the world clearly needs it.

Self-accounting is great for deep reflection – do it in solitude, in front of a mirror, but not in front of company. If you want to see a good one man show, go see stand up, and see how terrifying it is. If you are anything less than a professional speaker, do something with much less risk, and much greater value. Listen.

Listening allows for you to connect. Connection is the prize, but it’s also the work. Most people are nervous because they don’t know what to talk about.  Listen, and experience how liberating and great it feels with this problem solved. Listen, but don’t be a dead piece of wood. Respond, comment, sound back, ask questions… and see how the conversations grow.

II. Be present

Your presence says a lot about you. Your “air“, so to speak. Opening up yourself subjects you to being vulnerable, but yet, it’s the only way you can really feel, which is the only way you can really offer something. As you nurture this skill, you also develop empathy, (and thereby saving a couple thousands worth of therapy bills, on a modest estimate.) By being present, you are in turn, valuing and validating the presence of your company, which does two things of magic: 1) their self-esteem increases, and 2) the esteem they hold for you also increases. Being held in high esteem is perhaps, the most noble of all places, which is why it doesn’t come easily. But it’s really not magic, it’s just learned and trained behavior over time.

III. Be genuinely interested

Sounds like listening, but the focus here is on sincerity. No meaningful engagement is without it. Being genuinely interested enables you to pick up cues and hints – emotional, cerebral, and physical, so much better, faster, and more accurate than feigning it, which is deceptive and arguably manipulative. We all know someone who simply can’t take a hint – don’t become that person.

On a level of conduct, being genuinely interested is a mark of being respectful. Showing respect is rudimentary of all good conversationalists. The sharpened awareness that stems from it, is a bonus. Plus, you might hear something valuable – without having to pay subscription/tuition!  This is, in a way, the gift that keeps on giving.

IV. Be open to new ways of thinking 

There’s nothing more satisfying than learning something new. At the core of a good conversationalist is a good thinker. Good thinking shows your values, philosophy, attitude, and worldviews. How you think is your politics; a good conversationalist is a good diplomat. Diplomats don’t start wars.

New ways of thinking, at its worst, will inform you; at its best, will enrich you. Knowledge is power – you can’t lose this one.

V. Go beyond the charms; offer your art; speak to affect.

A good conversationalist is naturally charming; the reverse is not always true. When it’s not true, it’s disappointing, one could even argue – deceiving, and deception is just garbage.

Good conversationalists are artists, artists are givers, charmers are takers. Because most communication is non-verbal, the same line, said differently, have different effects. The way your words land is an art in its own right. Acting lessons, if nothing else, help with this. Get a coach, or just start saying things differently -repeat what others say in your head, people watch and be a fly on the wall. Watch good films and actively learn.

The best conversationalists have always had an affect on me. The way they think starts to influence the way you think, and before you know it, you start to share mannerisms in your speech and draw from the same vocabulary. Studies have shown that people who share the strongest relationships also have very similar ways in which they think … It’s the mental bond that has the strongest hold. That’s one reason one night stands are fleeting and tasteless. Always more seductive to be in someone’s head than someone’s bed. Mental space is a scarce commodity, but good conversationalists reside there.

Good conversationalists also reside in brick and mortar buildings, in that offline world. So stop reading this. There isn’t anymore.


P.S. Practice makes perfect.

P.P.S. There’s always more.


Talk to me like a Man; Rudiments of Courtship; A 5-step How-To.

In courtship, XX & XY on February 4, 2015 at 11:11 pm


If you don’t live under a rock, you’ve probably been inundated with all things Valentine’s (pro and against) for as long as you’ve given up on your New Year’s resolutions. While you’re giving up, at least do it in style – “Say it with Crack Pie” à la Momofuku’s Milk Bar. Yeah, do it with fat that’s worth it. Or “Skip Valentine’s Day this year with a hand-picked selection of the best breakup albums ever recorded.” (Thanks, CD Universe)

Anyone that’s selling anything will now assault you in every way possible, to remind you that Valentine’s Day is upon us, the ultimate turning point of Cuffing Season. Capitalize on those sentiments if you wish; it’s good for the economy; good for the person receiving; good for the dentist; good for the dying CD industry, which could actually use some love. So keep on, Capitalism needs you. But more importantly, while your mind is on the matter, let’s bring it back to the basics. Yeah?

In the digital age, someone with whom to hold a decent conversation is as rare as a relic. In the circus we live in, naked photos come easier than decent invitations; Jane Austen would be rolling in her grave, as cringe-worthy behaviour permeates. So, #bethechange.

Voilà, Rudiments of Courtship
(Needless to say, these do not apply within the #FriendZone)

I. Address me in a manner that shows your force of character
Respect that I have a name. Don’t jump the gun on “baby” talk. Premature anything is less-than-desirable. If you go for nicknames, show intellect and imagination.

Please don’t:

  • Hey buddyyyy”  – Does your buddy wear six inch heels and model lingerie?
  • Yoooo” – I’ve yet to encounter a successful man who addresses a lady like this.

Compel a response, or you won’t get one.

II. Tell me what you love
Tell me about your day, your world, your passions, your dreams. Tell me what you love – I’m all for that. Better yet, teach me what I don’t know. If you have me locked in a conversation with you, green lights, I want to know. There’s nothing more sexy than a man in focus. Nothing more attractive than seeing someone light up in their element. “A man’s worth is no greater than his ambitions,” words of gold from Marcus Aurelius. So show me. I remember you for your ambitions and drive, I’m less so affected by physique. Call me jaded; I work with models all the time. But the most beautiful thing? Well, here.
So talk to me. But remember, speaking poorly about your ex’s, your friends, or other important people in your personal/professional lives, will reflect poorly on you. Refrain from that descent. Gossip is for tweenage girls; talk to me like a Man.

III. Ask me for what I like
I don’t do “favourites”, but I have preferences, I know what I like. I’m open to what I don’t know, of which there are lots, but the arrogance to assume you know what’s best for me, doesn’t jive. I like men who take charge, but real men never neglect to ask.
Assume nothing. Ask.

IV. Offer tangible solutions
I lead a complexly interesting life, of which there are frequent radical surprises. (Reads, “I’m a trouble-maker, and tend to be more than a handful.”) A single, pitiful, expression of “That sucksss…” is not something I need to reacquaint with. With first-hand experience,  I know better than you can imagine. Trust me. Real men offer tangible solutions.
i.e. When I got a flat driving on the high-way, support physically came to my rescue (in a suit-and-tie no less, straight from work in another city, meeting me at disaster point!). I learned early on that Roadside Assistance is for girls who didn’t have real men in their lives.

Please don’t:

  • Tell me I need a break; I’m blessed to do what I love, and I run on that.
  • Instead? Plan a break, and take me there. Intrigue me. Command my respect, attention, sweep me off my feet. Otherwise, I’ll think of you as a pest. #sorrynotsorry.

V. Put your money where your mouth is

Granted, this post has been about talk, but genuine sincerity trumps slick lines any day. I’m of the creed that’s immune to sugarcoated sweet-talk.

Oh, and if you tell me, “we have to talk“, don’t wait for me to confront you a year later on the subway platform. Boys walk away; Real men walk the talk.