Sunday, November 28, 2010

How I Learned to Talk: Part Two

Part One addressed the pitfalls of lazy talking.  Part Two will itemize some helpful rules to point you in a good direction.

Rule One:  Knowing when to be silent. The upper hand can be had in any encounter if you wait to the count of ten before answering a question.  The other person will become nervous and begin chattering at about number six.   If you can master the “count to ten” response, it never disappoints. 

Rule Two: Adapt your language for the recipient:  My neighbor is a retired schoolteacher named Margaret.   Her husband is named Tom. Margaret and Tom Smith.  How do you talk to a solid English teacher like Margaret Smith?  Be conscious of words and syntax . Thankfully, I just read a book titled “Woe is I” and finally know when to use “which” and when to use “that”.  In case you want to know:  “what” is used when it’s important;  “which” is used for extraneous clauses that you could leave out.  With Margaret Smith, I drag out words like “impervious” and “obsequious” and guess what?  She wants me to come over and see her new compost bin.  She says, “Just walk right in.”  I’m telling you, it’s the “impervious” that invites that kind of hospitality.

Rule Three:  Preparation.  You can do this in front of a mirror or in your head.  Before I go to a dinner party, I plan some conversational sequence meant to entertain.  My hosts are feeding me carefully prepared, expensive food.  I have a responsibility to contribute to the ambiance.   When I was going to meet a very modest Englishman who held a high position in the British government, I prepared the following opening remark:  “If you were a Sheridan play, it would be called “A modest man of great importance.”  He walked away with a bemused grin but I caught him looking at me later.

Rule Four:  The third party effect:  When I used to change my infant grandson and knew he might choose that moment to relieve himself, I always said: “Don’t taze me bro,” a phrase I borrowed from a videotaped police confrontation on the evening news.  The baby didn’t care what I say, but I knew it would make his father smile and that’s always rewarding.

Rule Five: Squelch anything colorful at the bank and at the hospital: When you’re asking for a loan and the nameplate on the desk says: Ms. Du Bois, don’t be tempted to blurt out Blanche DuBois’ famous line in Streetcar Named Desire, “I have to depend on the kindness of strangers.” Say: “It’s so hot outside but very pleasant in here.” and the loan officer will say: ”How much of a loan did you want?”

Rule Six:.  It is legitimate to use sarcasm and irony to test the acuity of someone you are vetting for a job or marriage or power of attorney.  These verbal skills are part of our human toolbox and if our brain is healthy, we are wired to respond to them.   Dr. Margaret Rankin, a neuropsychologist says if you don’t recognize sarcasm, it’s because of some damage to your parahippocampal gyrus which is located in the right brain.. People with dementia, or head injuries in that area, often lose the ability to pick up on sarcasm or irony.  This is known as the Forest Gump response.  No, it’s not, I’m just kidding.

The sixth rule of talking (and this is the last but most important rule):  Let’s take all of the talk content you will have in life. You have a chunk of information, a chunk of ideas, a chunk of whining, and a chunk of aimless non-consecutive thoughts to divide between your family and friends and whomever crosses your path.   To avoid senseless time wasting maneuvers like back pedaling, apologizing, rifts and perhaps murder, segregate and be situation appropriate.  Be vigilant and don’t falter.

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