Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Conversational Jiu Jitsu

My old XO used to use the term "Staff Officer Jiu Jitsu" to describe this phenomenon -- if you want some action to be taken, you have to find the person who would carry it out, explain it, and then convince him that it was his idea in the first place. Compliment him on what a great idea it was, and boom -- it will happen.

If this sounds like it makes no sense or wouldn't work, try it before you dismiss it. You might be amazed by how well this works. Of course, you have to somewhat smooth and subtle about the transfer of ownership of the idea. But once you've done this, the old workplace maxim kicks in: "There's no limit to the amount of work you can get done as long as you don't care who takes the credit."

Well, a cousin of this idea is something I'll refer to here as "Conversational Jiu Jitsu." Again, it's going to sound absurd at first. But here it is: If you become extremely good at listening -- engaged, brow furrowed/lips pursed, with appropriate head-nods, "okays," and "I knows," -- people will actually think you're talking. You would simply not believe the number of times I've had "conversations" that lasted up to an hour where I purposely said maybe five or ten total words. What did someone else tell me at the end?

"This has been the most amazing conversation."

"I always come into your office and then get pulled into these conversations and the next thing you know, it's an hour later."

"You can really talk anyone's ear off."

If I had somehow been able to capture the conversations with a tape recorder, and play it back while juxtaposing it with the above comments, it really would've been theater-of-the-absurd type of stuff. But trust me, they're all real.

Now comes the part you're really not going to believe.

I'm guessing that you know me (I'm not entirely sure who reads this, but I would bet it's mainly friends and colleagues).

Here's my challenge to you: The next time you see me in either a) a group of three or more, or b) with someone who is not already a close friend, take a closer look at the conversation to determine who is actually doing the talking, and who is actually doing the listening.

You may be very surprised by what you notice.


Robert said...

Dale Carnegie discusses "Conversational Jiu Jitsu" at great length in "How to Win Friends and Influence People." He describes a personal experience in which he attends a dinner party and listens to a newly made acquaintance speak for forty-five minutes. At the end of their conversation, Mr. Carnegie's counterpart remarks, "Wow, you're really a great conversationalist!" even though he had contributed no more than five minutes of speaking to the conversation.

The New Englander said...


Thanks for the post -- great Carnegie reference there. That book has a cheesy title and a lot of pre-WWII folk wisdom, but it really is a timeless classic about how humans really behave, and what people respond to.

Also, thanks for pointing out the universality of the experience. The Carnegie comment and the first one I listed "...amazing conversation..." are both positive even if there's a shroud of irony around them.

Comments 2 and 3 are similarly ironic, but with the negative connotation, it's hard not to get defensive when you hear it. "Talking someone's ear off" or "pulling someone in" are never meant well, but it's especially hard to swallow when the person who says it has just yapped at you for an hour without taking a breath!

The New Englander

Matt said...

A corollary: in any conversation, if you ask the person one of these questions
-- did you like where you grew up
-- are you close with your siblings
-- are you happier now than you were 10 years ago

You will always be described later as sensitive.

The Clinton Corollary:
If the conversation turns political, if there is one tiny disagreement, you will be described later as an asshole.

The New Englander said...


Great stuff. Some questions are just universal -- they'll open up a personal response and, like you said, help lead to the 'asker' getting labeled a certain way.

Loved the point about politics. I think politics and religion and definitely great topics, but definitely not good fodder for initial meetings/impressions. Someone at Brew'd Awakening this morning was telling me how Hugo Chavez was *good* which I find a little bit offensive and ignorant. I just let it go, but I would probably have to admit that on some level it altered my first impression of the person who said it.


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LearnAboutLife said...

I read Dale Carnegie's "How to make friends and influence people" when I was 11 years old for the first time. Then I revisited it in my late teens. It has had a profound impact on my conversational skills. I think this book is one that was a foundation for my further reading. I like your blog. I also have one that is a little different but similar:

Great post!

Best Regards,

Bryan Westra