Sunday, September 14, 2008

Dynamics of a tête-à-tête

Let's admit it- I'm no man of my word (I claimed I'd write a blog regularly and I didn't!). But hey, I'm a man of my words. I'm also a man of other's words- because very often in conversations, I talk so much that I seem to steal the other person's fair share as well. But then talking for me is a passion, each conversation being an enjoyable puff of addiction and every random dialogue with a stranger a welcome stimulus to unlock my inner thought apparatus. And hence, here's an attempt at dissecting it. 

After all, we all place such a great emphasis on conversations. Consciously and unconsciously, they are critical to every important decision in our life- remember the night you spent discussing your fav cartoons with your girl in the park and realized you both clicked? Or the coffee you had with your current boss when he gave you the confidence to quit and join him (Did you even taste the coffee?)? And oh, we nearly forgot the 2-minute-long phone call that was enough to convince you that the prospective buyer of your flat sounded right! Yes, our hunches are always piggy-backing on impressions derived from conversations. 

Most importantly, though, it is such a joy to have a fruitful, meaningful, intelligent, non-stop conversation. The kind where you are parring thoughts back and forth, where one trivial observation is snowballed swiftly into a takeaway to be consumed in solitude. Where no thought is considered bad or stupid or wierd, and where the synergy between two minds is far greater than the sum of its parts.

So I wonder, what makes a cracking dialogue? Is it merely the people indulging in it? Do we only click with people who think alike? Are we born good or bad conversationalists or is it (as I strongly felt) something we can develop? I thought of the questions, but I'd never have conjectured any answers (I was busy talking!) until a chance reading in Gladwell's Blink on improvisation comedy (what Whose Line Is It Anyways is) got me at Hello. 

For those who haven't read it (is quite an average book tbh), Gladwell describes the science behind the art of spontaneity- how, unlike what we believe, creativity is honed and not inherited. He talks about how improv actors strictly follow a set of rules- foremost among them being the rule of agreement- no matter what, a character always accepts what is being said, and NEVER is his response to anything denial. Once this rule is followed, the book argues, spontaneity flows easily. The more I thought about it, the more I felt, yes, that's one of the major keys to conversationality as well!  

I think good conversationalists are people who follow this rule of agreement. But, agreement in this case doesn't mean agreement of views (they would be really boring conversationalists otherwise), but agreement with the existence of ANY view. You say something radical and they don't get fazed, and even though they obviously disagree, they would hit something back at you that isn't a knee jerk reaction or a judgement of you. Because they are suspending judgement completely. You stonewall a view, and they try breaking through it, asking questions on why you think so. Good con...lists (I'm tired typing now) never stop a topic. They always draw you into a conversation, not out of it. And they know how to steer your intellectual energy (positive or negative) in a positive direction. 

Another thing I feel that distinguishes an interesting dialogue from an average one is the difference between observations and facts. Look at students cramming for finance job interviews- they mug up the levels of every goddamn stock index in the world, and are ready to rattle off market capitalizations at the drop of the Managing Director hat. But as an interviewer, what catches the eye when it parses through a sea of intelligent applicants is simply an opinion. A student who has an unrefined, crudely-hatched view on where the market will be in 2010 is anyday a winner over the numbers-spewing Wikipedia-addict. And the same is true for other conversations, I feel. Knowledgeable people do create a good first impression, and if you know your facts you do earn respect. But your shelf-life is also for an instant- ironically, you lose your contributing power the moment you use it! But what really drives a good conversation is opinions and observations, hunches and stances. These are the ones which elicit responses, which draw people into following suit with their own views. 

What often makes chat fun is creativity- foremost needed in the ability to package things differently. Everyone conveys a thought in way A, so let's use method B. Isn't that what pick-up lines are all about? Everyone likes a light exercise of the brain cells, and a witty phrase or monicker provides just that, and in the right quantity. And if combined with humour, you've had your prey (in line with the context of pick-up lines!).  

But finally, the most basic ingredient of the confab masala is a hunger to talk to people who think differently from you, a genuine curiosity to understand why they think what they think, and a fearless disposition to subject your quirky, could-be controversial views to the microscope that's sitting across the sofa. And that's what makes banter, well, banter :) 


Anmesh Wali said...

Nice one!
Are you by any chance from VJTI and IIMB?

Ro Ro Ro a Boat said...

Good one Mehat... as someone who has had zillion conversations with you, I agree :)

Atticus said...

@Anmesh: by every chance, yes!

@Roa: thanks! i must say that you show all these qualities in your conversations :) thanks for all of the zillion ones!

Chrysalis said...

Liked your second post...fanta-bloody-tastic! I had this feeling when I started reading that it had to do something about the book 'Blink' that you were as usual enthusiastically telling me about sitting in a cafe in London.

Atticus said...

hey Attiya- thanks for commenting :) yes i have spoken to many ppl abt this before!

Anonymous said...

Hey...I think conversations just stop when you remind people whet they had promised...especially 4 o'clock tea drinking.

I guess things got a bit busy and forgot...but how many times? Too many to mention here! Lols

Conversations over some masala tea is always better quality conversation than one without it! Thats what I think. It's not the volume of tea that counts (sorry American guy with 10 gallon hats and n gallon coffees - I think you finished you last tea at the Boston tea party hosted by Britain). It is the quality of tea that counts. The Indian masala tea is a homogenous liquid (not the separate bits of mild, water, tea and sugar that you taste in English teas - not many can do singl liquid teas nowadays!).

The volume and quality of tea is well discussed above...the only thing left is company...well its no use drinking all by yourself. It is always better to share teas. This is slightly difficult in tight societies where teas could cost from 70p to £2.80. Sometimes sharing is inversely proportional to cost. So real company is a bit hard. Often, what seems to be real only like an account...your turn /my turn etc..too many one turns often ends the tea time conversations..

Nice conversation anyway.

Tea Walla