How to Talk With Practically Anybody About Practically Anything

I would like to offer an alternative title for this book: How Not to Be an Ass to Everyone You Meet.

You’ll find that celebrities, dignitaries, children, and others are not so different from the average Joe or Jane.  We have common struggles, likes/dislikes, opinions, and fears.  It can be  a breath of fresh air when you begin treating “special” people just as you would any other stranger that you meet for the first time.

While reading Barbara’s book, I realize this is not the default mode for most people.  I cringed while reading examples of excited fans who, upon meeting famous individuals, mixed them up with someone else and attributed them to the wrong movie/song/book.  In one excited fell swoop, you deal a great blow to the individual’s dignity/pride and place them in the very uncomfortable position of correcting you (in which you begin to argue they must be wrong, or move to the far more embarrassing process of trying to figure out why you know them), or they must fake appreciation for something they did not do. Barbara offers this advice, “when in doubt, take the safe route of ambiguity and then gently change the subject – as in, ‘I’ve always appreciated your work so much.  What are you doing in our town.'”

Empathy can be your greatest friend.  Avoid the questions that famous individuals have heard a thousand times and can dispose of without as much as a glance in your direction.  Instead, ask them about practical matters:

  • How has your house weathered the recent storms?
  • What’s your schedule like/What time do you wake/sleep?
  • Tell me about your children (assuming they are not in the rebellious years)
  • What are your hobbies?
  • What’s your opinion on the recent congressional decision to eliminate health care?

These questions, and others like them, humanize the individual and allow you to see a more intimate side of them.  It allows them to open up and become comfortable in engaging with you.

In regards to particular individuals, the following chart will serve as a conversational reminder of Do’s and Don’ts:

Category Do Ask… Don’t Ask…
Tycoons about their journey about work or kids
Royalty/VIPs practical questions them to speculate
Young about their interests/opinions about school/sex/drugs
Old about today’s culture or memories/history/G-Kids about health and don’t be preaching/condescending
Bereaved listen rather than ask if the event is recent; ask about happier times if it is not anything implying pitty; pitty makes them feel naked and mortified
Handicapped how they would like you to interact with them and allow them to steer the question.  Personal life and their adjustment to the handicap may or may not be welcomed anything implying pitty or make them out to be more important than they are, they are not abnormal people, but also do not pretend they are not handicapped
Bores questions about topics they have NOT been talking about, may them think: provocative subjects, current events, etc. more questions on the subject
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