TIME psychology

Here’s How You May Be a Conversational Narcissist

Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

“Conversational narcissists always seek to turn the attention of others to themselves.”

Via The Art of Manliness:

Conversational narcissists always seek to turn the attention of others to themselves. Your first reaction to this statement is likely, “Oh, I don’t do that, but I know someone who does!” But not so fast. Conversational narcissism typically does not manifest itself in obviously boorish plays for attention; most people give at least some deference to social norms and etiquette. Instead, it takes much more subtle forms, and we’re all guilty of it from time to time. Everyone has felt that itch where we couldn’t wait for someone to stop talking so we could jump in; we pretended to be listening intently, but we were really focusing on what we were about to say once we found an opening.

Yes, you’ve done this. We all have. What’s it look like?


James: I’m thinking about buying a new car.
Rob: Oh yeah? What models have you looked at?


James: I’m thinking about buying a new car.
Rob: Oh yeah? I’m thinking about buying a new car too.
James: Really?
Rob: Yup, I just test drove a Mustang yesterday and it was awesome.

In the first example, Rob kept the attention on James with his support-response. In the second example, Rob attempts to turn the conversation to himself with a shift-response.

Isn’t this a normal part of conversation? It depends:

To summarize, it’s fine to share things about yourself, as long as you loop the conversation back to the person who initiated the topic. The best rule to follow is simply not to jump in too early with something about yourself; the earlier you interject, the more likely you are to be making a play to get the attention on yourself. Instead, let the person tell most of their story or problem first, and then share your own experience.


Once someone introduces a topic, your job is to draw out the narrative from them by giving them encouragement in the form of background acknowledgments and supportive assertions, and moving their narrative along by asking supportive questions. Once their topic has run its course, you can introduce your own topic.

Otherwise you end up being the jerk who thinks they’re the center of the universe.

Sometimes simple interactions can seem complex. There’s a whole science to charisma but the best, briefest and most bulletproof summation of how not to come across badly is from Dilbert creator Scott Adams:

Be brief and say something positive.

Join over 180,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Related posts:

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

The 8 Things The Happiest People Do Every Day

How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

How to Make Difficult Conversations Easy: 7 Steps From a Clinical Psychologist

man rubbing eyes under eyeglasses
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Someone is screaming in your face at the top of their lungs. Or ranting angrily and you can’t get a word in edgewise. Or maybe they’re sobbing so hard you can barely understand what they’re saying.

We’ve all been there. These situations don’t happen a lot (thank god) but we all feel helpless when they do. And because they’re rare we don’t ever seem to get better at handling them.

Problem is, these moments are often critical because they’re usually with people we care about.

What’s the best way to handle these difficult conversations? What works?

I called someone who knows: Dr. Albert J. Bernstein. He’s a clinical psychologist with over 40 years of experience and the author of a number of great books on dealing with people problems:

Dinosaur Brains: Dealing with All Those Impossible People at Work

Am I The Only Sane One Working Here?: 101 Solutions for Surviving Office Insanity

Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry

Here’s what you’ll learn in this post:

  1. The magic phrase that gets people to stop yelling.
  2. How to stop making the most common mistake in these kind of discussions.
  3. How to switch people from being emotional to being rational.
  4. The mindset that makes dealing with hysterical people easy.
  5. And a lot more.

Okay, time to wage war with the crazy. Here we go…

1) First, You Need To Keep Calm

You already have one person overreacting. The worst thing would be to have two people overreacting. If you Hulk Out, it’s little more than a screaming match and nothing gets accomplished.

Al calls the emotional side of our mind the “dinosaur brain.” It’s millions of years old and only understands “fight” or “run away.”

If you stay calm, you can help someone escape its grip. But if you fall prey to it too, it results in what he likes to call the “Godzilla meets Rodan” effect: lots of yelling, buildings get knocked down but nothing constructive gets accomplished. Here’s Al:

…the basic idea is that in many situations, you’re reacting with instincts programmed into your dinosaur brain, rather than thinking through a situation. If you’re in your dinosaur brain, you’re going to play out a 6 million-year-old program, and nothing good is going to happen. In that case, the dinosaur brain of the other person is going to understand that they are being attacked, and then you’re responding with fighting back or running away, and either one is going to escalate the situation into what I like to call the “Godzilla meets Rodan” effect. There’s a lot of screaming and yelling, and buildings fall down, but not much is accomplished.

What to do here? Monitor your arousal levels and do your best to stay calm. He said the same thing about dealing with stress that Harvard researcher Shawn Achor did: see problems as challenges instead of crises.

(To learn how Samurai and Navy SEALs keep calm in difficult situations, click here.)

Okay, you’re cool as Fonzie. But they’re still acting crazy. What’s the best strategy here?

2) Treat Them Like A Child

No, I don’t mean be condescending. But you wouldn’t try to rationalize with a screaming child. And you wouldn’t get angry with them for yelling. You’d just dismiss the hysterics and deal with the underlying problem.

Adults aren’t any different. (Yes, this is both very insightful and extraordinarily depressing. Welcome to Earth.)

Trying to logically explain why yelling isn’t helping doesn’t work with three-year-olds and it won’t work with grown-ups either. Ignore the drama.

If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Shift into dealing-with-your-kid mode and watch magic happen. Al literally says “If you feel like a preschool teacher, you’re probably doing it right.” Here’s Al:

People say to me all the time, “You mean I have to treat a grown-up like a three-year-old?” I say, “Yes, absolutely.” If you’re a parent, what do you do with a tantrum? You ignore it, or at least you try to ignore it. But with an adult you try and talk them out of it, and it never works.

(To learn the ten rules to communicating more effectively, click here.)

So you’re calm and you’re not letting them get to you because you see them like a big kid. But how do you stop the yelling, crying or screaming?

3) “Please Speak More Slowly. I’d Like To Help.”

Anything that slows the situation down is good for you.

One of Al’s first jobs was working with violently psychotic people in an institution. He quickly realized that slow means calm and calm means thinking vs reacting.

(What’s interesting is my friend Chris, who was the Lead International Hostage Negotiator for the FBI, often recommends the same thing: slow the conversation down.)

So how do you get someone to stop yelling? Your natural reaction is actually the worst thing to do. Saying, “Stop yelling” will be seen as telling them what to do. Nobody likes to be told what to do, especially angry people.

Instead, Al says try a variation of: “Please speak more slowly. I’d like to help.”

Why does this work? It breaks the pattern in their head.

They’re expecting you to resist them but you’re not. You’re asking them to clarify. You’re interested. This makes them shift more out of “dinosaur brain” and into thinking. And that’s good.

(And have you ever tried yelling slowly? Good luck with that.)

The same principle works on the phone too: you want to snap them out of that pattern without being seen as fighting back. Al calls it the “uh-huh rule.”

When they pause to take a breath on the phone, don’t say anything. After enough silence, they’ll probably respond with, “Are you there?”

That speedbump pulls them out of the angry momentum for a second and makes them think practically. Here’s Al:

When somebody is talking to you on the phone and they stop to take a breath, your natural reaction is to say, “uh-huh.” It’s kind of a universal thing. We don’t realize that we’re doing it. But if you go three breaths without saying “uh-huh”, the other person will stop and say, “Are you there?” We tried that so many times, and it was just amazing how well it worked. What I’ve just given you there is a way to interrupt somebody who’s yelling at you on the phone without saying a word. Just don’t say “uh-huh.”

(For tips from an FBI behavioral expert on how to make people like you, click here.)

They’re not yelling anymore. But that doesn’t mean they’re not angry and it doesn’t mean you’re making any real progress. What turns raving crazy people into rational adults you can talk to?

4) Ask “What Would You Like Me To Do?”

Slowing it down is great. And so is seeing them as a child. What’s the next big strategy? You need to get them thinking.

Anything that moves them from emotionally reacting to consciously thinking is good. Here’s Al:

When people are angry at you or attacking you, it’s very easy to fight back or run away, but what you really need to do is something that engages their brain.

And that isn’t too hard, actually. Ask them, “What would you like me to do?”

They need to formulate an answer. That makes them think — even for a second — and you’re on your way to turning the Hulk back into Bruce Banner. Here’s Al:

Once you get the person to stop yelling, you say, “What would you like me to do?” The person has to stop and think at that point. What you want is to move an angry situation toward the possibility of negotiating. You can do that by simply asking, “What would you like me to do?” It moves them from their dinosaur brain to their cortex, and then negotiating is possible.

(For more on dealing with irrational, angry or just plain crazy people, click here.)

You’re calm. They’re not yelling and they’re starting to think instead of just acting like an emotional grenade. So how do you keep things moving in the right direction?

5) Don’t Make Statements. Ask Questions.

Another huge, huge error we all make: we explain. Don’t explain. Why?

The other person will interpret it as a veiled form of fighting back. You know why? Because it is a veiled form of fighting back.

It’s the polite way of saying, “Here’s why I’m right and you’re wrong.” And everybody sees it for what it is. So cut it out. Here’s Al:

Explaining is almost always a disguised form of fighting back. Most explanations will be heard as, “See here, if you really understand the situation, you will see that I am right and you are wrong.” That is an attack, and it’s also one of the ways we achieve dominance over other people. We act as if we just explain our position really clearly, then the other person will understand and agree with us. I’ve never really seen that work.

So what do you do? Ask questions. Here’s Al:

One of the main rules that I say to people is if you want to get along with people, ask don’t tell.

He also recommends another technique that comes straight out of the hostage negotiator playbook: Active Listening. Here’s Al:

What I typically do with people is reflect back the emotion that they’re feeling. If they’re saying something like, “I’m Jesus Christ, and they’re trying to crucify me,” instead of saying, “No, you’re not Jesus Christ,” you say, “That must be pretty scary.” They’ll say, “Yeah!” The act of listening is reflecting back the person’s emotional state, not necessarily the content of what they’re saying.

(For more on how hostage negotiators use active listening and how you can get better at it, click here.)

They’re calm now. So how do you make sure you don’t blow it and end up back where you were?

6) Start Sentences With “I’d Like…” Not “You Are…”

Now that they’re being rational, the last thing you want to do is say anything that sounds like an accusation. And they’re going to be extra sensitive to this because they just came down from feeling attacked.

In his great book Dinosaur Brains, Al says:

Any sentence that begins with “you are” and does not end with “wonderful” will be experienced as name-calling.

What you’re doing now is basically negotiating so start your sentences with “I’d like…” Just stay away from the word “you” as much as possible. (Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman recommends the same thing when romantic couples argue.)

(For more on negotiation from FBI hostage negotiators, click here.)

You’re almost out of the woods. But there’s one last thing people often do that screws up everything and puts them back at square one…

7) Let Them Have The Last Word

Needing to have the last word is like quitting at mile 26 of the marathon. You’ve done everything right up until now. Do not let your ego screw up everything at the last minute.

Just like explaining is actually an attempt at dominance, so is needing to have the last word. You’re shifting your goal from “calming this situation” to “showing them who is right.” Here’s Al:

The last word is usually an attempt to be right. You can undo any positive thing you’ve done by saying one word that sends them back into attack mode.

Don’t take the bait. Let them have the last word. Let them feel “right” if it lets you accomplish your real goal.

(For more on how to win every argument, click here.)

This is a great system for dealing with difficult conversations. Let’s round it up and get Al’s thoughts on the single most important thing to do when having any type of discussion with people.

Sum Up

Here are Al’s tips for turning difficult conversations into easy ones:

  1. Keep calm. Don’t turn it into Godzilla vs. Rodan. (Samurai secrets of staying calm are here.)
  2. Treat’em like a child. You can’t talk them out of emotional outbursts and getting angry over it does nothing good.
  3. Say “Please speak more slowly. I’d like to help.” Slow it down. Don’t come off like you’re fighting back.
  4. Ask “What would you like me to do?” You gotta make’em start thinking in order turn off the rage machine.
  5. Don’t make statements. Ask questions. Explaining is veiled dominance. Questions get them thinking.
  6. Start sentences with “I’d like…” not “You are…” If you start with “I” it’s hard to be seen as attacking.
  7. Let them have the last word. Don’t let your ego blow it at the last minute.

So what does Al say is the single most important thing to do when dealing with people?

When they speak, ask yourself why they’re saying what they’re saying. Think about what’s going on in their head, not yours. This leads away from judging and toward understanding and compassion.

Here’s Al:

If you want to get along well with people and understand what’s going on in situations, whenever somebody says something to you, ask yourself, “Why is he saying this to me? What’s going on with him?” That is a doorway to understanding, a doorway to getting what you want, and also a doorway to compassion. Rather than judging the person, try and understand them.

Leave “Godzilla Meets Rodan” for the movies. Our lives need more compassion and less of anything that levels Tokyo.

In my next weekly email I’ll have more tips from Al on dealing with difficult bosses, crazy co-workers and what decades as a clinical psychologist have taught him is the secret to happiness. To get that and more, sign up here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 151,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

6 Hostage Negotiation Techniques That Will Get You What You Want

How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

Read next: 10 Rules You Need to Know to Communicate Effectively

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Love and Money

The Most Important Talk You Need to Have Before Marriage

wedding rings tied to roll of $100 bills
Getty Images

A frank conversation about finances early on will prevent relationship land mines later on, says love and money expert Farnoosh Torabi.

It’s not exactly first-date material, but at some point early on couples ought to start talking about money.

Best if the first discussion happens before the relationship takes a turn for the serious—like moving in together, getting engaged or married, or cosigning a loan. You’d want to know if your steady’s trying to pay off a six-figure law school loan or hasn’t saved a dime towards retirement yet, right?

While we know it’s important, many of us shy away from asking our partners key questions related to savings, investments, debt and credit. More than 40% of couples surveyed by Country Financial recently said they didn’t discuss how they’d manage their money together ahead of tying the knot.

As a society, we’re not especially conditioned to speak intimately about our finances. One report found money to be a tougher topic for Americans to talk about than politics and religion. Plus, if you’re not particularly proud of your financial state, a no-holds-barred discussion may stir up anxiety, embarrassment and fear of rejection.

Here’s how to calmly—and, dare I say, pleasantly—enter this critical conversation into the record in the early stages of your relationship:

Set a Date

My now-husband and I had a money powwow about two years into dating.

Don’t get me wrong: By then, we’d fully observed each other’s spending behaviors and discussed goals (thankfully, with no red flags). But we’d yet to really share specific numbers.

With plans to move in together and cosign a lease just a few months down the road, we figured this was a natural and important time to get into the nitty-gritty.

If you and your mate haven’t come anywhere near this conversation yet, my recommendation is to schedule a time to talk so that your partner doesn’t feel blindsided and so that you can each do a little homework beforehand if need be.

One way to frame your request for a money summit: “I know it’s not the most exciting thing to talk about, but it would make me a lot more comfortable if we could go over our finances together since things are getting more serious. I’m not worried at all; I just think it’s helpful if we share the basics so that we’re both on the same page and can work toward common goals. And I want you to feel like you can ask me anything you want about my finances. I want to be an open book about this stuff because I’ve seen how it can unnecessarily complicate things in relationships.”

Then ask: “What do you think?”

Make an Even Exchange of Information…

To ease any potential tension, my future husband and I decided to meet at a familiar and fun setting: our favorite bar.

We ordered a round (one round only) of margaritas and proceeded to jot down the following on a piece of paper: annual income, bank balances, outstanding loans and credit card balances and approximate credit score.

Then we swapped papers, revealing our details at the same time.

This exercise gave us a simple, quick apples-to-apples comparison and helped us understand our relative strengths and weaknesses.

We discovered that while I had more retirement savings, he had a better credit score. (I was still dealing with the consequences of a late payment on my Banana Republic Card five years prior when I was younger and less vigilant. Sigh.)

You and your partner could try this tactic if you both are straight shooters. But if your sweetie could use some help coming out of his or her financial shell, you might need a softer approach.

…Or, Ease Gently into the Interrogation

Revealing a bit about yourself first may encourage your significant other to talk money.

“Share your feelings and see how he or she reacts,” says Barbara Stanny, author of Sacred Success: A Course in Financial Miracles.

For example, you could start by saying, “I really hate having credit card debt.” From there, you can talk about your personal experience and then ask for your partner’s take.

Or, try the following softball conversation starters which can help you get at hardball answers:

What you really want to ask: “How much do you have in savings?”
Start with: “Would you say you’re more of a saver or spender? Why?”

This helps you figure out habits and behavior, which can be just as telling as actual figures. “Most important, you want to know what are their spending and saving personality is like. For example, how impulsive are they?” says Kate Northrup, author of Money: A Love Story. You can follow up with a question like, “Are you trying to save up for anything major?” This approach can also help you figure out if you share similar goals.

What you really want to ask: “What’s your credit score?”
Start with: “When did you first open a credit card?”

Go down memory lane together to ease into your credit technicals. Talk about how you might have signed up for your first card in college just to score that free t-shirt. And admit a personal rookie misstep you might have made with said credit card.

Then gradually you can warm up to: “Have you ever looked up your credit score?”

If neither of you know, take a few minutes to get free estimates using mobile apps from Credit Karma, Credit Sesame or Credit.com.

What you really want to ask is: Do you have a lot of student loan debt?
Start with: How did you pay for college?

This is the question many dating couples probably want answered, as towering student loan debt is a sobering reality for many.

A conversation about how you afforded school—via scholarships, working and/or student loans—will help engage your partner. And along the way you may gain some insights into each other’s financial values or work ethic, too.

Once when you’ve gotten all these basics out of the way, treat yourselves to another margarita. Your first money talk out of the way! Now that’s a relationship milestone to be celebrated.

Farnoosh Torabi is a contributing editor at MONEY and the author of the book When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women. More of her columns and videos for MONEY.com:

TIME psychology

First Date Conversation: 5 Things Research Says You Should Talk About

Couple at the restaurant
Franck Reporter—Getty Images/Vetta

First date conversation can be awkward. What do you talk about? How can you come across well?

Science has answers.


1) Talk Travel, Not Movies

In a study by Richard Wiseman, less than 9% of couples that talked movies wanted a second date vs 18% of couples that talked about travel.

Via Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things.

When talking about movies, less than 9 percent of the pairs wanted to meet up again, compared to 18 percent when participants spoke about the top topic—travel… the conversations about travel tended to revolve around great holidays and dream destinations, and that makes people feel good and so appear more attractive to one another.


2) It’s Not Just What You Talk About, It’s How You Talk

Add to what they say and bounce the ball back.

This is how to have smooth first date conversation.

Avoid extremes in autonomy. Don’t dominate, but don’t be a non-contributor either.

Via Brain Trust: 93 Top Scientists Reveal Lab-Tested Secrets to Surfing, Dating, Dieting, Gambling, Growing Man-Eating Plants, and More!:

The trick, according to Finkel, Eastwick, and Saigal, is to avoid extremes in autonomy. Accept your date’s pass, redirect it slightly, and then return the ball— all with warmth and genuine interest in his or her responses. This acceptance and redirection is the push and pull that creates smoothness.

3) Share Secrets

Emotional, personal information exchange during first date conversation promotes powerful feelings of connection.

Via Sam Gosling’s book, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You:

Arthur Aron, a psychologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, is interested in how people form romantic relationships, and he’s come up with an ingenious way of taking men and women who have never met before and making them feel close to one another. Given that he has just an hour or so to create the intimacy levels that typically take weeks, months, or years to form, he accelerated the getting-to-know-you process through a set of thirty-six questions crafted to take the participants rapidly from level one in McAdams’s system to level two.

But how effective can this be, really?

In under an hour it can create a connection stronger than a lifelong friendship.

Via Click: The Magic of Instant Connections:

What he found was striking. The intensity of the dialogue partners’ bond at the end of the forty-five-minute vulnerability interaction was rated as closer than the closest relationship in the lives of 30 percent of similar students. In other words, the instant connections were more powerful than many long-term, even lifelong relationships.

Read Aron’s most effective questions here.


4) Choose Controversial Over Dull Every Time

If all else fails, talk about abortions and STD’s.

Yeah, you heard me.

Forcing people to discuss interesting but more controversial topics made for more enjoyable first date conversation.

Via Dan Ariely:

We limited the type of discussions that online daters could engage in by eliminating their ability to ask anything that they wanted and giving them a preset list of questions and allowing them to ask only these questions. The questions we chose had nothing to do with the weather and how many brothers and sisters they have, and instead all the questions were interesting and personally revealing (ie., “how many romantic partners did you have?”, “When was your last breakup?”, “Do you have any STDs?”, “Have you ever broken someone’s heart?”, “How do you feel about abortion?”)… Instead of talking about the World Cup or their favorite desserts, they shared their innermost fears or told the story of losing their virginity. Everyone, both sender and replier, was happier with the interaction…What we learned from this little experiment is that when people are free to choose what type of discussions they want to have, they often gravitate toward an equilibrium that is easy to maintain but one that no one really enjoys or benefits from.

5) Looking To Get Lucky?

Dating site OkCupid found one question that was the single best predictor of whether men or women would have sex on the first date:

“Do you like the taste of beer?”

Via OkCupid:

Among all our casual topics, whether someone likes the taste of beer is the single best predictor of if he or she has sex on the first date… No matter their gender or orientation, beer-lovers are 60% more likely to be okay with sleeping with someone they’ve just met. Sadly, this is the only question with a meaningful correlation for women.


Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here

Related posts:

How To Be A Good Kisser – 10 Tips From Scientific Research

How To Make Someone Fall In Love With You

Science Of Sex: 4 Harsh Truths About Dating And Mating

5 Secrets That Will Help You Master Conversation Skills

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.


Read next: Here’s How to Strike Up a Conversation With Almost Anyone

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME psychology

Mastering the Art of Conversation: 7 Steps to Being Smooth

In The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure, Catherine Blyth gives some great tips on handling the subtle nuances of polite interaction.

Here are seven of my favorite bits:


How To Make Small Talk

Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure:

Whatever the context, old friends or new, it is best if speakers respect five principles:

  1. Put others at ease
  2. Put yourself at ease
  3. Weave in all parties
  4. Establish shared interests
  5. Actively pursue your own


How To Make A Solid Introduction

Mastering the art of conversation has to start somewhere, so you have to know how to begin. Here’s a solid formula.

Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure:

An effective introduction is small-ad brief, splicing in only two ingredients per person:

A (who they are) + B (why they are relevant)

The salient information is not so much formal title (royals, snobs, and servicemen excepted) as how you relate to one another or the event (housemate, client, mother-in-law, single male drafted in for ladies like you). Identify points of contact, charge people up, and you have a connection.


How We Judge A Successful Conversation

Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure:

Research has found that with a serious topic or a good friend, we measure a conversation’s success by how enthralled we were by what the other person said. Whereas, the less familiar the other person, the more trivial the topic, the likelier we are to rate the experience by our own performance.


How To Make A Conversation Progress

Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure:

Discussion should enlarge by exploratory increments. Pace matters. Too neutral, too long, and you’ll both transmit beige personalities, but accelerate to war’s evils right away and her son will be a brigadier. Instead, use discreet hints to flush the other person out.

If in doubt, the stair to intimacy has four steps:

  1. Courtesies (“Hello, how are you?”)
  2. Trade information (“So what brought you here?”)
  3. Trade opinion (“Isn’t this music unusual?”)
  4. Trade feeling (“Yup, I hate it.”)

Pose questions that circle the personal, noting whether the other prefers a sharp or gentle approach, and adapting accordingly. Andalthough small talk aims to please, don’t make this too obvious.


Great Conversationalists Listen More Than Talk

To help doctors be better listeners, their responses are graded from 1 to 6 with the “empathic communication coding system.”

The higher the number, the better.

Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure:

6: Shared feeling/experience

5: Confirmation of an emotion’s legitimacy

4: Pursuit of the topic

3: Acknowledgment

2: Implicit recognition (but changing the topic)

1: Perfunctory recognition (autopilot)

0: Denial/contradiction


Two Powerful Pieces Of Advice

Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure:

  • Hear what people are really saying as opposed to what they are telling you.
  • Directness is a privilege of intimacy.


How To End A Conversation

There are a number of phrases that can politely signal the end of a chat.

Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure:

Arrangements: Talk of the Next rings the knell for Now.

Any statement starting “Finally,” “Lastly”: Suggests an agenda is nigh complete.

Satisfied Customer: A labeling comment to convey a job has been ticked off the list, “Well, I just wanted to check everything was okay.”

Farewell by implication: Pre-goodbye goodbyes: passing regards to the wife, etc.

Past tense: To kill the Now without committing to future encounters, say “It was great seeing you again,” “This was fun.”

Time’s winged chariot hurrying near: That oh-so-pressing world you must be getting on with, or the missus will kill you, or the shops will have run out of Christmas trees, or the kids will be starving…

Mustn’t keep you: To suggest that you’re halting the other person’s day is polite…

I would love to continue with this post, but I wouldn’t want to keep you.

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

6 hostage negotiation techniques that will get you what you want

How To Make People Like You: 6 Science-Based Conversation Hacks

5 secrets that will help you master conversation skills

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME relationships

Who Talks More, Men Or Women? The Answer Isn’t As Obvious As You Think

A recent Northeastern study joins a long list of literature on the topic

A study released Tuesday sought to answer the ages-old and oft-debated question, do women really talk more than men? This most recent answer seems to be: well, it depends.

Northeastern University Professor David Lazer and his team studied 133 adult subjects in either professional or relaxed settings and gave them all “sociometers,” a device about the size of a smart phone that measures social interactions.

Their results found that the gender who spoke more very much depended on the setting. Women were slightly more likely to engage in casual conversation during a lunch hour but much more likely to engage in long conversations during an academic collaboration. However, men were more likely to dominate conversation when placed in a professional group of six or more people.

“So it’s a very par­tic­ular sce­nario that leads to more interactions,” Lazer said. “The real story here is there’s an inter­play between the set­ting and gender which cre­ated this difference.”

While Lazer might have been the first researcher to use sociometers in such a study, the question of which gender talks more has been asked many times before. A number of self-help books have cited this statistic: women utter an average of 20,000 words a day while men speak an average of only 7,000. A researcher from the University of Pennsylvania who tried to track this statistic’s origin found that it may have come from a 1993 marriage counselor’s pamphlet. The pamphlet’s numbers were, surprisingly, unsourced.

In the world of actual science, one 2007 study found that women and men use roughly the same number of words a day: 16,215 words for women compared to men’s 15,669. And while one 2004 study found that girls spoke a negligibly small amount more than boys, another from the same year found that boys spoke up nine times more in the classroom.

Above all, Lazer’s study proves that the debate on the subject roils on. However, for those who still believe women to be the more talkative sex, this old Chinese proverb may offer insight: “The tongue is the sword of a woman, and she never lets it become rusty.”

TIME psychology

5 Secrets That Will Help You Master Conversation Skills

Tara Moore—Getty Images

What are the fundamentals of conversation skills?

I’ve posted about the fundamentals of networking, and even how introverts can network but many people have written to me asking about the nitty gritty of conversation skills.

What do you say when you’re face to face?

It’s a good question that isn’t often addressed. First impressions matter even more than you think. And once they’re set, they are very hard to resist.

Let’s break it down:


1) “Be yourself” is often bad advice.

Is “be yourself” the best advice before a job interview? Hell, no. Dress nice, be polite and act enthusiastic no matter what you’re like, right?

What does “be yourself” even mean? You’re not the same person moment to moment. Face it, you can be moody.

Fake it until you make it” works. Does acting a bit in social settings mean you’re dishonest? No.

Research shows putting your best foot forward actually reveals the real you:

In sum, positive self-presentation facilitates more accurate impressions, indicating that putting one’s best self forward helps reveal one’s true self.


2) Emphasize similarity.

There is extensive research that we like people who are like us.

In almost every conceivable way, from background to word choice, emphasizing similarity improves social relations.

When salespeople were told to mimic the body language of listeners it was rarely noticed but sales increased 20%.

Via Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World:

Despite the rather obvious nature of the copycat animation, only eight of the sixty-nine subjects detected the mimicry (and those mostly because they made a strange movement and then saw the agent making the same unusual motion). The remaining students liked the mimicking agent more than the recorded agent, and rated the former as being friendlier as well as more interesting, honest, and persuasive. They also paid better attention to the copycat presenter and found the mimicker to be more persuasive. In the final analysis, just adding mimicry made the sales pitch 20 percent more effective.


3) Get them talking about what interests them.

People who have trouble with conversation always say the same thing: “But what do I talk about?

Wrong question. The right question is “How do I get them talking about what they’re interested in?

Don’t be a conversational narcissist. Want to get along with people? Learn how to listen.

What should you say after you listen? Research shows you should respond with things that are “active and constructive.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:



4) Make people feel good.

Studies show no matter what people say they prefer likable people over competent people. So don’t worry so much about being impressive.

Dale Carnegie’s work agrees with scientific research.

Even insincere flattery works:

The authors show that even when flattery by marketing agents is accompanied by an obvious ulterior motive that leads targets to discount the proffered compliments, the initial favorable reaction (the implicit attitude) continues to coexist with the discounted evaluation (the explicit attitude). Furthermore, the implicit attitude has more influential consequences than the explicit attitude, highlighting the possible subtle impact of flattery even when a person has consciously corrected for it.

How do you make people feel good without being slimy? Offer sincere compliments and ask for advice.


5) How to keep a conversation going.

Avoid extremes in autonomy. Don’t dominate a conversation, but don’t be a non-contributor either.

Add to what they say and bounce the ball back.

Via Brain Trust: 93 Top Scientists Reveal Lab-Tested Secrets to Surfing, Dating, Dieting, Gambling, Growing Man-Eating Plants, and More!:

The trick, according to Finkel, Eastwick, and Saigal, is to avoid extremes in autonomy. Accept your date’s pass, redirect it slightly, and then return the ball— all with warmth and genuine interest in his or her responses.

This acceptance and redirection is the push and pull that creates smoothness.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

What are the four things that kill relationships?

“Nice guys finish last.” Really? What does the research say?

The top FBI hostage negotiator teaches you the 5 secrets to getting what you want

Read next: The Science of Dealing With People You Hate

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME career

6 Ways to Become a Better Communicator

Gchat isn't always the best way to talk

I grew up in a pretty blunt household — we said what was on our minds and no topic was off-limits. This level of candor meant no silent treatments, no hiding behind slammed doors, and no letting things stew. While honesty has certainly helped me in personal relationships as well at the office, there are times when my dose of truth serum can be a little too potent. Why does talking (something most of us have been doing since infancy) become so difficult sometimes?

“Communication is, above all, a skill — and very few people know how to communicate effectively, naturally. It takes thoughtfulness and a lot of practice,” says Carl Alasko, PhD, a California-based psychotherapist and author of Say This Not That: A Foolproof Guide to Effective Intrapersonal Communication.

This basically means you need to strategize and practice if you’re going to successfully confront your roommate about her less-than-stellar cleanliness skills (or tell a coworker he isn’t pulling his weight on a project). No worries if your eloquence isn’t quite Brian Williams-level; we’ve tapped top communication experts for their tricks. Get ready to master the art of conversation.

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

  • Get to the Point

    Designed by Mary Schafrath

    Being honest with someone can be intimidating. I’ve seen “moments of truth” that go brutally wrong and end up featuring tears, accusations, and flying iPhones. But, you shouldn’t avoid confrontation like it’s a bad Nicolas Cage movie; there are instances when it’s necessary to be up-front.

    “Be straightforward with people when the complaint is one that directly affects your relationship,” says Art Markman, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Texas. “Beating around the bush runs the risk that they will not understand the message.” The best way to approach a confrontation is to decide in advance what you what to accomplish, explains Dr. Alasko. If you need to call out a close friend for consistently ragging on you, say: “You have been really critical of me lately. I want you to stop.” “You don’t want to play victim and pretend nothing is wrong,” Dr. Alasko explains. Prep beforehand, recalling concrete examples of when you felt upset so you can remain factual.

    At work, be extra-attentive about making sure the point is open for discussion. Since there are more boundaries at play in the office, it’s good to say something like “Would it be okay for me to offer a suggestion?” or “I’d like to provide an explanation and discuss this further.” Whether you are delivering a performance review or proposing a change to a co-worker, you’ll convey a neutral position and open the floor up to dialogue.

    In any scenario, it’s important to realize that anything you bring up can come as a surprise to someone. “I always remind my clients: Just because you’ve known someone for a long time, [it] doesn’t mean you can read each other’s minds…sometimes people don’t realize that they are doing something wrong,” explains Anna Ranieri, PhD, a California-based counselor and co-author of How Can I Help?

    (MORE: 10 Things Not to Say at Work)

  • Quit the Blame Game

    Designed by Mary Schafrath

    Being direct doesn’t have to be hurtful. Dr. Alasko urges us to avoid the four toxic behaviors: criticism, accusation, punishment, and humiliation. “These will only create anger and distrust, and push people further away,” he says. When the person you’re speaking to doesn’t feel attacked, he or she will be more open to discussion, and more willing to initiate change.

    An easy way to eliminate criticism is to use strict facts to get your point across, says Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations. Instead of stating, “You were late again,” aim to be more neutral and say, “You agreed to be here by 2 p.m., but you arrived at 2:20.” “By describing the gap between what was expected and what happened, you remain judgment-free,” he says. Being able to phrase the truth in a compassionate manner makes it much easier for someone to view your comments appreciatively instead of defensively.

    For your message and guidance to be well-received, it’s also important to take timing into account; a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that people are less likely to take advice when they are feeling upset or angered by previous events.

    (MORE: The Genius Guide to FAKE Confidence)

  • Don’t Be a Know-It-All

    Designed by Mary Schafrath

    I’ll admit it: I love to play therapist. But, as much as I’m thrilled to offer any insightful pearls of wisdom, I’ve learned to dish them out cautiously; it turns out, not everyone wants advice. “Sometimes, people just want to vent,” says Dr. Ranieri. When you are confronted with a tale of despair, go ahead and ask: “Hey, did you want my advice? Or are you just looking to get this off your chest?”

    If your opinions are solicited, keep this in mind: Researchers found that people respond more readily to information rather than votes for or against something. So, cushion your recommendation with facts about what may or may not have worked well in the past.

    On the other side of the spectrum, there are the chronic advice-seekers. You may spend hours counseling these individuals, but they never, ever seem to follow what you propose. In these cases, “It’s okay to be blunt and say ‘You’ve asked me for advice several times already, but I’m not sure we’re getting anywhere,'” says Dr. Ranieri. “Being up-front can help jolt a self-realization that maybe it’s time to take action.”

    (MORE: Are You Being Lied to? 10 Tell-Tale Signs)

  • Talk Online & Offline

    Designed by Mary Schafrath

    Gchat, email, and texting can be saviors when we want to communicate at lightning speed — or avoid dealing with someone face-to-face. “Email is an especially good way of bringing up news to introverts, who may need some time to absorb the information, reflect, and prepare a response,” Dr. Ranieri explains.

    But, you don’t want online communication to become your default. It’s a “passive way of handling problems,” Dr. Ranieri cautions. If you have a big announcement to make to a boss or partner, go ahead and bring up the issue via email — but ask to follow up with an in-person discussion. Your smartphone is not the appropriate channel for breaking up, quitting your job, or bringing up any concern that will take multiple messages to negotiate. “You’ll want visual contact so you can determine if the other person is on the same page,” explains Grenny. A study in the Journal of Information Systems Research found that face-to-face discussion reduces misunderstandings because it allows for immediate feedback and social cues (such as posture, eye contact, and facial expressions).

    So, it’s okay to call attention via text or email, but the real hash-out has to happen in person. Looks like that dreaded “we need to talk” text is actually onto something.

  • Think Now, Talk Later

    Designed by Mary Schafrath

    Proverbs have declared it “golden,” Simon and Garfunkel dedicated a song to it — yet silence still gets a bad rap. People who don’t respond right away to a comment (or refrain altogether) fear they’ll be viewed as incompetent or ill-prepared.

    “As humans, we’ve been hardwired with the fight-or-flight response to react instantly to a verbal or physical attack,” Dr. Alasko says. While we have learned to control our physical response — you don’t throw a punch at your boss for a bad review — we have a much harder time holding back our words. Adrenaline can cause us to easily blurt out something we don’t mean, simply because our communication channels are compromised by stress.

    Ultimately, though, the goal is not to resort to the silent treatment, which can come off as passive and immature. Instead, simply delay communication. “Pause and prepare a thoughtful response, which can buffer emotions and minimize hurt feelings,” Dr. Alasko advises. Before launching in, he suggests saying: “Let me think about this for a few seconds.” The silence may be initially uncomfortable, but it’ll prevent you from saying something you will later regret.

  • Take a Minute

    Designed by Mary Schafrath

    The goal with communication strategies is not to change your personality or become an emotionless robot; some of us are more blunt, others are more passive — and that’s all fine. To be a more effective communicator you just need to develop your awareness. How we talk (in addition to what we say) can change the outcome of our conversations — especially the uncomfortable ones. Now, talk among yourselves.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com