May 25, 2009

"I was beginning to realize that the only way to make this evening bearable would be to ask André a few questions."

"Asking questions always relaxes me. In fact, I sometimes think that my secret profession is that I'm a private investigator, a detective. I always enjoy finding out about people. Even if they're an absolute agony, I always find it very interesting."

A line from "My Dinner With Andre."

Do you use this conversational technique? Do you use it when — like the movie character Wally — you're feeling nervous? Do you like it when you realize that someone else is using it on you?

19 comments:

Meade said...

I don't know. Do... do... do you?

Quayle said...

Oh no, Ann. I'm not falling for this conversational technique.

You'll have to do much better than that.

Much better, indeed.

paul a'barge said...

Such a cool movie ... for some it was anathema and for others a revelation.

I thought it an evolution in movie making and I loved it then.

I wonder if I put it on my Netflix queue and watched it again would I like it as well?

traditionalguy said...

Good conversation is the act of listening to people tell you about their favorite subject:themselves. After the encounter you will have made them happy, and you will also know whether they value you at all by whether they let you share with them as well. A few people, like Gold nuggets, will enjoy listening to you. All good politicians listen and learn. A well known creator said, "out of the heart, the mouth speaks".

Deirdre Mundy said...

I've always found that when you're thrust into a cocktail party full of strangers, the best bet is to ask them about themselves. Most people have interesting stories, and then noone notices that you're actually painfully shy.

This technique works best in rooms full of academics, because them you can pick up some really interesting ideas by listening to them descibe their research.

But it also works in normal crowds. My mom once started a conversation with a guy who was in advertising, and worked on the Crest account.

She asked him how he got into the field, and he explained that he used to be a Psychologist specializing in necrophiliacs, but ran out of people to treat!

(And he included some really morbid stories about the problem of necrophilia in funeral homes...)

So yes--It's a GREAT conversational technique---- you never know what you'll stumble across!

rhhardin said...

I make amusing observations. Then at least half the conversation is interesting.

DADvocate said...

I use the asking people about themselves technique also, avoiding "yes/no" questions. In "How to Win Friends and Influence People," Dale Carnegie mentions, when he was a child, how a man talked with him at length about boats, one of Carnegie's great interests.

When Carnegie told his mother that the fellow knew a lot about boats she replied that the man knew nothing about boats but was a gentleman and knew how to carry on a conversation.

Penny said...

Two-way conversation is one of life's simplest pleasures, and free but for the time it takes.

Ann Althouse said...

Personally, I prefer a conversation that does not have one person in the interviewer position. For example, I really liked doing bhtv with Hanna Rosin because it's very much not that. But it is a good fall-back technique. It's a fallback technique for Wally in the movie. He's very nervous about sitting through a whole dinner with Andre and he uses the technique as a coping mechanism. Near the end of the movie, it's a big thrill when Wally finally says "Do you want to know what I really think?"

Oligonicella said...

Ann Althouse --

"Personally, I prefer a conversation that does not have one person in the interviewer position."

Agreed. It should be a to and fro. It should also range.

As to the movie - I put it alongside the book Dune and movie Aguirre, the Wrath of God. I never made it through.

Joe said...

I often find myself in situations (like at dinner parties) in which I am the target of this technique, and I don't like it. And for some years now I've been forcing myself to throw it back: "So how about you? What kind of countertops do you prefer?" Awful, but it works.

Jennifer said...

It can be a good way to get started. But, if you can't develop from there, then you haven't had a conversation, you've had an interrogation.

Brent said...

My wife's line of work requires that we attend a number of functions each year where we are seated at tables with celebrities or people of accomplishment. I learned early on to sort of "take over" the conversation early with introductions, and then ask a question about someone's family, particularly about the children. Without exception, the answers begin fascinating discussions around the table.

I do this same thing in situations where the people we might be with are not well known, and it works just as well. The point is that I find everyone fascinating to some degree, whether they believe they are or not. One simply has to get them talking.

Elliott A said...

My mother in law never runs out of questions. While annoying, she does mine some good information out of people, and at 85 they are usually too considerate not to answer her.

Penny said...

Surely there will be some questions in a good two-way conversation, but the key to enjoyable ones is finding some sense of common ground or experience that results in even more sharing.

For example, I really don't enjoy sports, but were I talking to a die hard enthusiast, I would share my feelings about competition, or about fans, or about the place that sports hold to the daily existence of people all over the world.

No matter the topic, there will always be a way to move conversation to a more interesting place for both people by either broadening the subject or narrowing it. Not so much through questioning, but much more through sharing from your own experience or from your own views.

traditionalguy said...

Tell us more about your experiences, Penny.

Penny said...

I'd be delighted to share more experiences in a two-way conversation, tg. My commentary was specifically meant to be about two people talking, like Wally and Andre. When you add even a third person, the dynamics change dramatically. Blog comments are in another category entirely, at least in my opinion.

ricpic said...

When I'm uncomfortable with another person I'll often say something that I know is not so even as I'm saying it, but out of discomfort I'll say it anyway, thereby compounding my (and perhaps the other person's) discomfort. I've never said anything truly mortifying, but I've come close.

When I was quite young and innocent I told a filthy story, I mean really dirty, which I didn't understand, at a dinner party my parents were hosting. I then, in front of the guests, asked my dad what it meant. That incident fills me with sudden shame to this day. But, of course, I can't take the words back. Poor pa.

traditionalguy said...

Penny... You are right, and I was teasing you. Your comments are sincere and a highlight of reading the comments here lately.