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How can I share an opinion without turning every conversation into a debate or a lecture?

Hello guys!

For a long time in my life, I've been struggling with conversations because of my propensity to want to get deep in every possible subject that people are talking about. Are people talking about politics? Awesome, I love politics. Let me give me my two cents on it! Are people talking about training and physical exercises, diet and training overall? That is great! I'm interested in that subject too. I think I can contribute with one or two things I've been reading or trying to do.

The thing is: I'm also someone who is very curious, spend most of his days consumming a lot of information, learning a lot of things, gaining general knowledge about almost anything and digging really dip on the few things I care mostly about. And I like to share that information, in the same way I want other people to share their information so I can learn with them. But when you do this, you end up with a lot of different opinions - and, consequently, a lot of "actuallies", "well-i-think-differents", "it-may-be-true-but-i-heard-thats", and this is rarely well received. It gets even worse when I assume people are interested in every detail: I tend to give long explanations, and as soon as I realize, I'm the only one speaking. Sometimes it even escalates into a debate.

Let me give you an example that happened a long time ago. I practice a Japanese martial art, and I was with friends at a bar after training. Some of them decided to learn Japanese, and so the conversation went:

Friend 1: "Man, Japanese is so hard... I will never be able to learn all those Kanji"

Friend 2 : "Yeah, Japanese must be the hardest language in the world. I wonder how Japanese kids can even become literate. That thing is insane"

Me: "Indeed learning to read and write Japanese is very hard, but it is so because of the way the written language was standardized over the centuries. It is a challenge even for Japanese kids themselves. But you know what, the daily spoken Japanese language is just like every other language. What if you guys switch it up and learn to speak first? It'll even make it easier to learn how to read later" - some context: I don't speak Japanese, but I DO have some experience in learning languages and they know it.

Friend 2: "Kavalier, why do you always have to do this? You think you are a specialist in everything, always wants to be right about every subject. You don't even know Japanese, what makes you think you can teach us how to learn it?"

Now, Friend 2 - as others pointed out - was clearly overreacting. But to this day, from time to time, I still get subtle - and sometimes not so subtle - signs that other people are displeased in a conversation with me.

What would you guys do in situations like that? Any tips on sharing an opinion or giving suggestions without looking like you are trying to be a "know-it-all" or that you are dismissing other peoples' feelings and contributions?

Hey Kavalier,

Interesting situation.

Now that you make me think of it, it might be one of the most important aspects of conversations / social skills.

From observation it seems to me that one of the top -if not the top- reason for which people struggle to develop and keep strong social ties and relationships is an over-focus on:

  • Over-focus on self (come across as egoist / self-absorbed)
  • Over-focus on topic (comes across as pedantic / boring, people feel "stuck")

Generally, people with an over-focus on self make others feel "used" because their time is being used to benefit the speaker only (he'd fall into the bucket category of what we'd call it "taker" here).

And over-focus on topic instead makes people feel either bored and trapped with a boring man, or annoyed, as in being lectured or dragged into debates they have no interest in-.

The Art of Vibing

Vibing is:

  • Shared focus (opinions come and go quickly, people are engaged, and everyone gets a say, everyone feels heard)
  • Shared conversation / shared meaning-making  / flowing (topics come and go quickly, conversations flow smoothly)

Joe Rogan's conversations are a lot about shared focus and shared conversations.

While most social skills guides say "focus on others", I found that to make for more stilted and poorer interactions.
The best focus is on both -or shared with the group-. Call it "vibing".

Then from that "shared pool", there will be times you keep the spotlight on someone and go deeper. And then you share something of your own, and go back to vibing and flowing.

Generally speaking, and especially with friends and groups of friends, vibing is the standard, and you branch from there sometimes to go deeper when there is mutual interest (this is where emotional intelligence helps: "seeing" when others are interested or not).
And then go back to vibing.

It seems like your focus is on topic.

Focus on Topics: There's a Time For It

If you meet people with a focus on topic, then things can work great -Matthew here for example also goes deep and/or broad on topics-.

Some environments are also topic-focus.

Many worlds' clubs of artists / thinkers / philosophers discuss with a topic-focus and deep dives.
This forum sometimes also discusses with a topic-focus and goes in-depth when we're analyzing a technique, strategy, or concept.

That being said, it's a minority of people who have a strong topic-focus, and most socialization is based on vibing.

BUT the great thing is that you can do both, depending on who and where you are.
I do that, for example.

How to avoid lectures

I'd actually turn the question on you:

What is stopping you from vibing more?

What is stopping you from being more "in the flow" rather than stopping and going deep?

It might feel like a cop out to ask the question back, but I think it's a great way of frame-shifting.

When you ask "how can I", the "covert frame" is that right now it's not something that comes naturally to you.

When you ask "what's stopping me", it may come as a surprising realization that nothing is actually stopping you, and you just need to start doing it. The "solution" was within you all along.
And if there is something stopping you -maybe you want to be rewarded for your knowledge? Show off? Need some "deeper" friends as well? - then you go to the root cause of the issue-.

So, is there anything stopping you from being more in the flow?

Kavalier and Bel have reacted to this post.
KavalierBel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

And once again Lucio saves the day.

Thank you, Lucio, for this breaking down of the concept of vibing. I believe you went straight to the core of the question and gave me many ideas on how to handle this issue. Since I've read this, my mind is running wild, and as soon as I can organise my thoughts, I'll elaborate them in a more coherent text that I hope will also be  useful for other people who struggle with this

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Awesome Kavalier!

Let us know how it goes, curious to hear follow-ups and real-life experiences.

@Matthew, 

If you're reading here, I'd make a note of this for the social intelligence product.

Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Thanks Lucio! This really goes to the core of how humans relate to one another.

I really think it suits the new course.
I have been looking out for and "categorising" interactions into

  • Goal-oriented
  • Relating & vibing
  • Brainstorming

and so on.
Sometimes they happen all in one conversation.

This also reminds me of our discussion on XiaoIce: Empathetic Social Chatbot.
I was looking through the published paper recently.
This diagram sprang to mind:

There is a combination of different types of remarks:

  • Unconscious - I think the author means neutral statements here
  • Drive - leading the conversation to new topics to flow well and prevent the interaction from stalling
  • Active Listening and Affirmation - on topics that the user is interested in

On a tactical level, we can spot situations on when to use such statements to vibe better.

I am learning social skills from chatbots :).


Hi Kavalier,

I think your friend missed the opportunity for vibing as well.
It definitely feels good to dive deep into areas of interest :).

Your friend could have said:

Me: Indeed learning to read and write Japanese is very hard, but it is so because of the way the written language was standardized over the centuries. It is a challenge even for Japanese kids themselves. But you know what, the daily spoken Japanese language is just like every other language. What if you guys switch it up and learn to speak first? It'll even make it easier to learn how to read later

Friend 2: Possibly! I recall you are very much into languages. Tell me more about your experience in learning Spanish.

Since Lucio has given a comprehensive outline at a strategic level, I will touch on the "tactical" level.
You don't have to give up your desire of sharing your opinion.
You can set the stage to do so.

When someone shares about taking on something they find challenging, it's quite often that they are looking for

  • Encouragement
  • Acknowledgement and recognition

A possible interaction could be

Friend 1: "Man, Japanese is so hard... I will never be able to learn all those Kanji"

Friend 2: "Yeah, Japanese must be the hardest language in the world. I wonder how Japanese kids can even become literate. That thing is insane"

You: Learning Japanese does sound like a lot of time and effort. (Acknowledgement + Gives Opportunity to Share about How He Learns)
I took the easy languages :). (Sometimes self-deprecation can make people feel good; No issues if overall you are confident; You also give him the chance to ask you questions to relate to you)
How do you find speaking Japanese? (Sets the stage of talking about the verbal aspect)

You could even have more control over the conversation this way because your friend may start yearning for your emotional acknowledgement.
Though I wouldn't think so much of controlling the conversation.

Kavalier has reacted to this post.
Kavalier

Hi Lucio, Hi Matthew

Thank you again for making crystal clear the source of my conversational struggles and giving so many suggestions. Matthew, it's also great to get to know someone who also likes to go deep and broad in subjects 🙂 . My post became a little long, but, in essential, here's what I found after taking Lucio's instigation to take a deeper look at myself: I focus way too much in conveying value through talking + I see conversations as a potential hostile environment against which I have to guard myself.

Matthew, I loved your suggestion. I intuitively tried to acknowledge his struggles ("Indeed learning to read and write Japanese is very hard, but it is so because of the way the written language was standardized over the centuries. It is a challenge even for Japanese kids themselves") and offer some encouragement ("But you know what, the daily spoken Japanese language is just like every other language. What if you guys switch it up and learn to speak first? It'll even make it easier to learn how to read later").

But, from what you and Lucio said (and from what I have been reading on The Power Moves), I believe the problem with the way I delivered that message was:

  • it was verbose. It was full of facts that I myself found interesting and that I thought others would find interesting, but that could have been mistaken as a sneaky mini-lecture nobody wanted to hear and distract the listener from what was essential: the acknowledgement and the encouragement I wanted to offer
  • it was long. In comparison to the short sentences everyone was saying, I spent way too much time with the ball instead of passing it back to the other players. Just like in football, it's never fun
  • I came up with a "solution" way too early and too easily, if we compare it to the difficulty of the struggle they were facing. This negated my initial acknowledgement. Even though it wasn't at all my intention, it may have sounded as if I was saying "it's hard [for you] indeed, but [once again], come to papa. I know what to do"

Your suggestion, on the other hand, kept all of my good intentions without any of those shortcomings. It was direct, it was simple, it showed a lot of empathy, it integrated itself very harmoniously with the flow of the conversation... It did a lot with very few. That's power within a nutshell 🙂 I am going to test this outline in my future conversations, and I can already see it working wonderfully. When I have the chance, I'll post it here.

I also liked your breakdown of what my friend could have said. In other forums I participated we tended to concentrate the analysis of the interaction in what we ourselves were doing, as if we were the only ones making mistakes. It takes a lot of social intelligence to catch other peoples' mistakes and react to them accordingly.

Lucio, you were spot on when you "diagnosed" me with "a focus on topic" 🙂

And looking back, I can see how it came to happen. In my family, people to this day tend to argue about everything and see conversation as competition: you have to prove other peoples' arguments wrong; if, of everything you say, one piece of information is off, then they will jump on it and won't listen to anything else (they already "won" the conversation); if someone has done something, you must show what you would have done instead, no matter how trivial the situation was. It's the very opposite of the conversation as vibing that you presented. I grew up thinking that, If I wanted to be listened to and respected, I had to have all the facts in hand, and that having conversations had to do with knowing a lot of factoids. This mindset stuck and unconsciously, to this day, structures my interactions. While I don't want to beat people down into submission, I still show my weapons just in case someone might try to do the same to me.

It's actually mind-opening that you pointed out to me that there's a time for focusing on topics, because I tend to approach each and every interaction just like that. It goes a long way into explaining "what is stopping [me] from being more 'in the flow', as you say". In my mind, if you say something wrong, you lose power. If you say something right, you gain power and acceptance. But I was generalizing something that was true only to my family and some friends.

I also grew up as a very quiet and shy young man. I wouldn't participate in group activities nor I had an active social life. I would run away from every activity that wasn't in some way one vs one or solo, like playing chess, reading, martial arts etc. People would constantly urge me to "talk more", since I was so quiet. When after many years I mustered enough courage to start socializing I focused on this "talk more" thing, I started making friends with one or two colleagues, then on social media and chats on internet, gradually building up to the "real" life: go to bars and "talk"; go to people's house - and talk; join study groups at the University and talk; approach the pretty lady at the club and "talk". Now, it did work somewhat - especially in these more intellectual environments, and at least enough that I didn't have to pay attention to this for a very long time -  but there was a big problem with this approach.

The problem was that I was concentrating on a very small dimension of human interaction: "talking". I didn't understand that until joining The Power Moves crew, but I was missing all the things that both give power and strengthen human relations: going out there and doing things together; giving and receiving value; working together with a common goal in view; sharing a common history and so on.

But I wasn't doing anything like that - and still I am not :-). As I couldn't convey value and power by acting and participating - and be seen acting and participating - and giving and receiving actual resources in the social exchange market, I tried to do that through the only channel of socializing I had: talking. This emphasized my tendency to want to have "important" and "interesting" things to say. What I was doing was the same thing as trying to win on the table of negotiations what I couldn't - or didn't even try - win on the battlefield.

In short, I did make one or two real friends; and I did make a lot of colleagues; but I have never been an empowered member of any social group, and I never realized that I was missing something. It also explains why I thought I had to jump in and say something "valuable" in that little interaction with my martial arts "friends": the spotlight everyone should get from time to time in a conversation would never naturally come, nor I was in a position to influence the flow. In my early days, I would just sit there, and everyone would forget about my presence, and sometime someone would say "hey Kavalier, you talked too little today".

P.S: Matthew, what a great idea! Learning social skills with a chatbot!

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

That was an impressive level of self-reflection and troubleshooting, Kavalier!

Sounds like you're just about to take a big step forward, and I'm happy about it :).

Quote from Kavalier on November 2, 2021, 1:40 pm

It's actually mind-opening that you pointed out to me that there's a time for focusing on topics, because I tend to approach each and every interaction just like that. It goes a long way into explaining "what is stopping [me] from being more 'in the flow', as you say". In my mind, if you say something wrong, you lose power. If you say something right, you gain power and acceptance. But I was generalizing something that was true only to my family and some friends.

We could probably say that the situations and people who advance the world are all topic-focused.

As we've said, it's not the majority of people and situations though.

And even then, even the people who work with a strong preference for depth and analysis, many will still enjoy chilling when they're socializing.
Some of them might not know it, but when they meet someone who can flow and then dig deeper, and then flow again, they'll be smitten and love the person who can give them that experience.

Kavalier has reacted to this post.
Kavalier
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on November 4, 2021, 2:45 am

That was an impressive level of self-reflection and troubleshooting, Kavalier!

Sounds like you're just about to take a big step forward, and I'm happy about it :).

Thanks again, Lucio! And you and The Power Moves community have a big, big part on this step! I'm glad we can all contribute to each other's growth and the advancement of the world in the process!

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Thank you very much for bringing this thread back to the surface. It is golden. Lucio, I think your answer about vining deserves to be in PU under "socialising".

Personally I do both: vibing and diving in topics. My problem is that I still fall into the trap of lecturing, since I love to share what I know. I end up sometimes hogging the conversation, unwillingly. Since it's a topic I only know (a conference I watched, etc.), people have little to contribute to. So that is why it looks like I'm showing off when my intention is to empower others as I've been empowered. It's about giving and I end up taking unwillingly.

That being said, in the last weeks before reading this thread, I am more aware of when the group conversation is branching somewhere else. I go with the flow even if I had something to add. It is not so much about the topic as it is about the shared experience. So I take it more lightly.

Diving into topics is more for 1-on-1 conversations I think. Otherwise as you said, there are too many conflicting opinions and it's difficult to dive deeper as there are not enough shared assumption to go deeper. This is different if this is your domain of competence and you talk with other people who share the same level of knowledge or not so different.

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