conversations

"Too nuanced to fit into a tweet"

I’ve seen a lot of people say that Twitter is bad for conversation because things worth saying are too nuanced to fit into a tweet.

That misses something about Twitter. Twitter is mostly about conversations. And it’s possible to have very good conversations on Twitter. Some of which can’t happen easily elsewhere. Twitter is particularly good for talking to strangers.

You can say a lot in one tweet. You can say even more in multiple tweets — especially if you’re having a conversation with other people.

The number of characters in a tweet is limited. The number of tweets in a conversation is not limited.

A tweet doesn’t need to say everything. It just needs to be part of the conversation. And there are tweets that support nuance and tweets that make nuance harder.

There are a lot of skills that go into quality Twitter conversations. I’m planning to write about some of them, hopefully in the near future.

But for now — the first step towards good Twitter conversations is realizing that they are possible.

Conversations between people who disagree

Conversations between people who disagree with each other can be really difficult. They can also be tremendously valuable.

One reason that it’s hard is that it takes two to have a conversation.

Each person has to be prepared to listen to the other and be prepared to think about what they have to say. Each person has to respect the right of the other person to think for themself, and be prepared to accept the possibility that they will not be persuaded.

Without mutual willingness to listen and think, it’s not really a conversation. It’s just somebody (or multiple people) presenting demands. (There’s a time and a place for presenting demands, but they don’t generally lead to good conversations.)

Another difficulty in conversation between people who disagree is that some opinions can hurt to hear even if someone is expressing them completely civilly. This can be confusing in two directions:

It can be easy to think that someone is being mean when they’re not. If someone’s opinion hurts to hear, it can feel like cruelty even when they’re being completely civil.

What to do about this varies. Sometimes the right thing is to bear the pain for the sake of listening and learning. Sometimes the right thing is deciding that you’re not ready to hear this yet. Or any number of other possibilities. But it’s always important when this happens to recognize that it’s not the other person’s fault that the concept hurts to think about.

At the same time — it can be easy to make this mistake in the other direction. Sometimes people you disagree with are jerks. Sometimes, when you really want to be open to other opinions, it can end up being hard to tell that people are being mean. (And hard to remember that you don’t have to talk to mean people in order to be receptive to disagreement). Blaming yourself for someone else’s decision to be mean to you won’t lead to good conversations either.

I think it’s really important to learn to tell the difference, in both directions. I think important questions to ask are:

  • Do I feel ok about having a conversation with someone who disagrees with me on this topic right now?
  • Am I willing to listen to this person?
  • Am I willing to explain my views in a way this person can understand?
  • Does this person seem to be willing to listen to me?
  • Do they seem to be willing to explain their views in a way I can understand?

If the answers to any of those questions are no, it’s probably not going to be a very productive conversation. In some situations, it’s possible to fix this by changing your attitude and deciding to hear someone out. (And sometimes trying that is a really bad idea.) Often, the best thing to do is either find a new topic or a different person to discuss the topic with.

All of the skills involved in having conversations with people you disagree with get easier with practice. It gets easier to find disagreement bearable. It gets easier to tell the difference between people being mean and people expressing a difficult opinion. It gets easier to listen. It gets easier to tell when people are listening. It gets easier to explain things in a way that can be understood. It gets easier to learn from others.

These skills can be hard to acquire — and they’re really, really worth it.

Conversations get better when you focus on the conversations that you can have productively — and the range of possible conversations gets broader as your skills get better.

tl;dr Discussing ideas you disagree with with people you disagree with is hard for a number of reasons. It’s also really worthwhile. Part of having good conversations is finding contexts in which they can happen productively. It gets easier with practice.

Question for y'all: participating in conversations without dominating them

thaxted:

realsocialskills:

So, I’m hoping some of y’all have this skill, because I do not.

I’m pretty good at having a one-on-one conversation.

I’m lousy at in-person conversations with more than one other person, unless I’m dominating the conversation (or sometimes if the conversation has another clear leader). When I’m at the center of the conversation dominating, I understand the flow of conversation, how to listen, and how to respond to what people are actually saying.

When I’m trying to participate equally in a group, I get very confused and tend to fall back on trying to dominate. It comes off like I think my voice is the most important, but I actually don’t, I just don’t really know how to have a group conversation. I’m hoping some of y’all do?

 Have any of y’all figured out how to participate fully in group conversations without dominating?

thaxted said:

Oh god, this is such an issue for me and it took me a really long time to understand that my “I’m so excited about this I want to share every thought immediately as I have it because this is so cool and I’m exploding with thoughts!” was coming off as “I think I’m smarter than everyone here and I don’t care what anyone else has to say”.

I also have a really, really bad habit of hearing the first few words people say and guessing that I know what they mean and wanting to get on with the conversation already and not wait for them to say the same thing over and over until they’re ‘done’. (Which it is much easier for me to see how obnoxious that is when I write it out that way.) It’s not just that I guess wrong—I do sometimes and I don’t sometimes—it’s that I’ve learned that even for the times that I do understand them right away, it’s really important for people to articulate all their thoughts fully because they may be understanding something about their own thoughts by saying them out loud. If I interrupt them, I’m interrupting their thought process and not giving them a chance to engage with their own ideas. I’m also creating a hostile environment where they don’t feel heard or cared about.

What helps me most is taking notes. I’m really bad at auditory processing and often I worry that I’m going to forget what I have to say if I don’t say it right away because I can’t hold one thing in my head while I’m focusing on a bunch of incoming auditory information (so I have about as much trouble with one-on-one conversations as I do group conversations). Sometimes that means letting go of the need to communicate everything I’m feeling if it’s more important to share the space. If I’m not dominating a conversation, I do tend to become more the “quiet person who interjects a key comment now and then”. It’s hard to have middle ground. But if there’s any possible way for me to write down jot notes of my ideas without being rude or weird (this works great in business meetings, not so well in casual social conversations), then that immediately relieves the pressure to remember everything and helps me engage with the conversation more fully.

tl;dr I have trouble with this because I get very excited to share my thoughts, get impatient if I feel people are repeating themselves, and I also fear forgetting what I want to say if I can’t say it right away. I deal with this either by accepting the fact that it’s more important to share the talking time and just add in a few important thoughts as I can, or by writing down my thoughts as I have them so I can add them when I get the chance.

realsocialskills said:

Oh wow, yes. Taking notes *does* help a lot. I forgot about that.

Identifying common interests

Conversations with unfamiliar people are easier if you can identify common interests as quickly as possible.

In college social environments, there are certain questions it’s almost always socially acceptable to ask that can be helpful:

  • What year are you?
  • Where are you from?
  • What’s your major?

Asking someone’s major can be a good way of detecting mutual interests. 

For instance:

  • Bob: Hey. I’m Bob.
  • Brenda: I’m Brenda.
  • Bob: Nice to meet you. What’s your major?
  • Brenda: I’m not sure yet, but I’m leaning towards physics.
  • Bob: Cool. I was considering that for a while, but decided to go with engineering. Did you ever have a class with Dr Physics?
  • Brenda: Not yet - is he really as hard a grader as everyone says? I’m really interested in optics but he kind of scares me.
  • (They then figure out that they’re both fascinated by optics, which they discuss at length).

Sometimes this works in other social settings in which you can reasonably assume that most people went to college. But in those settings, it’s generally considered more polite to ask where someone went to school before you asked what they studied. I’m not sure why.

You can also sometimes detect common interests by asking someone about their work. That can backfire though, since sometimes it’s used as a way of gauging someone’s social standing relative to the asker. Even if you don’t mean it that way, it might sound like you’re doing that.

Sometimes you can get away with directly asking “So, what do you like to think about?”. This question is considered a bit awkwardly direct, but most people are willing to answer it, and the awkwardness often goes away quickly once you identify a common interest.

You can also see if someone has buttons or pins or something else that indicates what they might be interested in. For instance: someone with a Batman pin is likely to be interested in talking about superheroes. Someone with a political pin is likely to be interested in talking about politics.

Some ways Tumblr is different from the rest of the Internet

Tumblr is a big conversation. Or, more accurately, a whole lot of different and overlapping conversations. It’s different from platforms like Blogger or Wordpress in that regard.

Following someone’s personal Tumblr usually means you’re trying to join their conversation. It’s more personal and interactive than subscribing to an RSS feed or following someone on Blogger or Wordpress. Doing that when they don’t want you to is invasive. 

It can be confusing to sort out what’s what sometimes. Reblogging something enters a conversation, and it can bring a lot of people into the conversation who the original poster hadn’t intended to talk to. Sometimes this is ok, and sometimes it isn’t.

Sometimes reblogging something can attract a pile of angry people to attack someone. Sometimes it can attract a pile of angry people who don’t understand what the OP meant and don’t want to.

When someone appears not to want to talk to you, it’s usually better to stop reblogging their posts and start your own posts instead. 

When you don’t want to talk to someone, it’s a good idea to block them. That won’t stop them from reading what you say, but it will mean they can’t message you and you won’t see them. That can make it possible not to get sucked in.

All of this is public in some sense – but it’s not public in the sense that a newspaper is public. It’s public in the sense that having a conversation while walking down the street is public. In that, it’s not ok to follow people around or join their conversation if not invited to do so. But people don’t have a resonable expectation of secrecy, either.

Some Tumblrs are really public. This one, for instance. I’m talking to anyone who wants to listen. But when people aren’t, it’s best to leave them alone.