These tips are not only for the silent introvert or for the shy, timid boy. I admire Margaret Shepherd’s guide for its open influence to a wide audience: EVERYONE. Whether or not you already consider yourself a master of conversation, she categorizes every person’s role in these interactions.
The KEY is to be SELF-AWARE.
It is important to know our part in these conversations and to pay attention to the content that spews from our lips.
With the “People We Meet”, there is no doubt we encounter these types, or rather, we are guilty of being these types. This article will help us learn how to respond and adapt to these conversing styles.
Part 1 Conversationalists:
THE EMPTY PHRASER
“The worst offenders use the same phrase to describe everything they talk about.”
This is what you call a person who speaks their words without substance. They lack articulation. A few familiar phrases here for example:
- The book is good.
- You look so beautiful.
- Her daughter’s school is top-ranked.
- That is a smart kid.
If you are guilty of this, the key is to elaborate. Is the kid smart in all subjects or does that comment just refer to his impeccable skills in pre-calculus for a ten-year-old? Was the book just satisfactory because the plot lacked a climactic scene? The formula is:
Adjective(s) + “Because” = Conversation Flow
This does not mean to OVERLY elaborate so as to not give room for others who want to ask you questions. A conversation devoid of back-and-forth interaction will result in your listeners losing interest.
When dealing with “Empty Phrasers,” ask what they actually saw or heard. All is not lost with an Empty Phraser. This gives you more flexibility to ask questions to further explain their blank statements.
The “Instant Old Friend”, who “thinks” they know how you feel when they don’t.
Some recognizable phrases are:
- “I know how you feel because….”
- “I felt the same way.”
- “I did, too.”
- (And the worst offense to say to someone…) “You shouldn’t feel that way.”
We call them the “Instant Old Friend” because they believe they know you best than anyone else. But even if you’re their sibling or child, it’s impossible to see an exact perspective of someone else’s. This person wants to intervene by including their opinion on the situation. They probably want to share their own experience with you. When conversing with the Instant Old Friend, it is difficult to not be offended, but take everything they say with a grain of salt. They believe sharing their experiences and relating them to yours, is their way of “helping.” So just focus on the good intentions behind it.
If you fall into this type, it’s best to be more of a listener. Even if you think you understand them, do not further pursue the matter by adding yourself to the situation.
No matter how big or small the situation is, do not insert yourself, your stories, and your “wisdom.” It’s best to keep quiet unless the person is actively seeking advice, thus you can definitely put in your two cents.
An example: A friend is crying because her boyfriend didn’t text her for 3 hours. She asks, “Am I being petty? Am I crazy for worrying?” It’s best to just say, “It’s okay. You’re entitled to your own feelings.” Which is true. No matter how “petty” a situation can be in YOUR opinion, it’s a different perspective to someone else. In these cases, don’t intervene.
The Shrinking Violet is identified as someone who has a hard time speaking up due to shyness.
This person suffers from social anxiety or what Margaret Shepherd claims a “sensory overload.” Shrinking Violets are usually misunderstood as standoffish when they are just at a loss for words. These characters are very keen on their surroundings and their feelings that they become overwhelmed with the entire idea of conversing at all. Shrinking Violets may sometimes feel that they are not worth talking to. Shepherd gives us brief, simplified tips on how to help alleviate the situations for our Shrinking Violets:
- Consider the Setting. Always observe their facial expressions and body language. Some people are just not comfortable having a conversation in small spaces like in an elevator or in large rooms with cliques standing close by.
- Try to Help. After considering the setting, determine to the best of your ability how to make them comfortable. Make eye contact (not intensely), exchange a smile, and initiate small conversation. Don’t overwhelm them with overbearing questions like, “What are big plans you have in life?” More of “What kind of music you listen to?” is okay.
- Stop Talking. It may seem your Shrinking Violet says “no” to everything. “You listen to music? No.” “You have any talents like singing? No.” “Do you like college? No.” So Shepherd suggests finding a nonverbal activity like watching the crowd or listening to music that you both like together. It doesn’t have to be awkward unless you make it awkward. If your conversing partner sees you’re chill and okay with doing these nonverbal activities, then they will also feel comfortable participating in them, too.
- Don’t Use the S-Word. You can talk about sharing symptoms of shyness, such as “I don’t know anyone here, do you?” However, do not forcefully initiate with the phrase: “Don’t be shy.” This can cause a Shrinking Violet to dislike the experience of conversing even more, since they were put in a more uncomfortable position.
Keep in mind reserved people are not necessarily shy people. It’s important to identify first if the person is really shy. “The truly shy person is wary; she copes by disengaging” (Shepherd 50).
It takes a lot of practice in communication skills to accomplish having a shy person to willingly engage. But the key is being patient and building that bond of trust. When they notice your consideration of their feelings and acceptance of their character, they will most likely open-up.
Are you a Shrinking Violet? It’s okay—I was, too. If this is something you want to overcome, start off small by practicing simple conversations with your parents or with a small group of friends. I know it’s a challenge, but it takes that small risk of putting yourself in uncomfortable situations that can bring you one step closer to improving your communication skills. Don’t rush yourself; whenever you’re ready and determined to overcome this fear, I’m rooting for you.
We all know that person who corrects you on everything you say whether it’s grammar, a false fact, a disagreeable opinion, anything. A Schoolmarm is usually that person that makes you feel like you’re in the classroom again. “If you make a mistake and [he/she] all but pats you on the back when [he/she] approves of what you say” (Shepherd 54), he/she can sound a bit condescending and patronizing because of their tone of voice with these typical phrases:
- I always say…
- Everyone knows. You must know that.
- Actually, it’s not.
- I think what you really mean to say is…
- You’ve got that wrong.
Shepherd gives great advice: “To engage a schoolmarm, remember that school is out and you are both grown-ups now. Don’t let their bossiness or their desire to control your opinion awaken your inner two-year-old.”
Similar to The Instant Old Friend approach, take things with a grain of salt. Don’t challenge a Schoolmarm directly, clashing with their authority, or else you’re signing yourself up for an intense argument.
“Steer the conversation onto an equal footing by asking factual questions about herself and her life rather than her already settled ideas. Step outside her classroom by finding areas you both have expertise in and including more people in the conversation” (Shepherd 54).
If you’re the Schoolmarm that other people get annoyed with, I get it. I’m guilty of it as well. It’s as if someone says something that doesn’t sit right with you and you have that sudden urge to quickly correct them, set them straight.
Margaret Shepherd doesn’t provide us with a suggestion, which may mean that it’s her way of suggesting that we just shouldn’t engage as a Schoolmarm at all. But personally, it is best to assess the situation if it is worth contributing your facts.
If you’re meeting someone for the first time and they say, “Sorry, I’m an unsociable person.” Is it worth correcting them and saying, “It’s actually anti-sociable. Unsociable is not a word.”? If you do not know them so well, doing so sheds a light on your character and may reveal just how uptight you might be. Maybe it’s okay with your best friend, but essentially no one likes to be treated as a four-year-old who’s just learning their alphabet or to be told that they’re wrong. Always stop to consider the other person’s contribution to the conversation.
Next in “People We Meet (Part 2)”:
- The Interviewer
- The Button Pusher
- The Bore