What Not to Say If You Want People to Like You 102: Assuming Intentions, Talking Too Much, Referring to Inside Jokes, and Interrupting

Exploring more unspoken rules of conversation, since What Not to Say If You Want People to Like You 101.

In this second installment of revisiting what we already know about communicating in North American culture, I’m taking it to the next level, peeling back the first layer to discover even more hidden (and less obvious) elements of being a good conversationalist and being considered a friendly (and normal) person.  And alas, here are more unspoken rules.

Don’t assume a person’s intentions by saying “you probably…” Though I assign “cliché status” to the joke “you know what happens when you assume…”, there is so much validity in it.  People usually don’t want to feel like they are being “figured out”.  So to assume that someone is not trying hard enough at something, for example, may not fair well.  Some people are slower learners but solid performers, and even better teachers once they do learn.

Refrain from using the phrases “it’s complicated” or “to make a long story short” more than once a month. If you do, there’s a good chance you talk too much, or say use too many words to tell a story.  If so, the listeners are often not fully listening to what you say, as they are really just thinking “get to the point already”.  If you find yourself about to say one of those phrases, stop yourself for a moment, long enough to think, “Okay, tell them the ‘edited for time’ version of this story, using 1/3 of the details as you’re used to”.  Then act accordingly.

Shorter stories help the listeners to become involved in a conversation with you, instead of it becoming a one-way conversation.  Telling stories is a good thing, just remember that if you preface them with “it’s complicated” or “to make a long story short”, you’re taking too long to tell them.

Never start a conversation off with “Did You Know?” unless you have already verified the facts. (Click that title to read more.) People who make a habit of this phrase typically follow it with urban legends and unchecked myths.  Therefore, their listeners tend to take them less seriously, especially when the listener immediately looks up their story on Google or Wikipedia.  Surprisingly, even the story how “granddaddy long-legs spiders are one of the most poisonous spiders in the world, yet they can’t hurt you because their fangs are too small to puncture you” is not accurate.  They can bite you, their poison does get into your bloodstream, but the venom does not affect human the way it affects their prey, such as Black Widow spiders.  Humans have immunity against daddy long-legs’ venom.  Check it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pholcidae

No inside jokes. If you find yourself referencing an inside joke with one or more people (but not all) in a group, take the time to briefly explain it to the uninformed.  Otherwise, you’ll end up excluding people, which will cause them to think that you’re cliquey, that you already have enough friends in your circle.  Most importantly, make sure you never say “you wouldn’t understand”.  Instead, help them understand.

Interrupting a Person Then Never Returning Back to that Point in the Conversation. It’s amazingly how many grown adults never understood the importance of not interrupting a person when they’re talking to someone else.  However, there are times when you must interrupt a person real quick to tell them something crucial, but this is not offensive and is completely redeemable when you say “I’m sorry, you were saying that (insert where they left off) ”.

When Someone Says, “Did You Know?” Before a Sentence, It Usually Means They are About to Spread an Urban Legend

Want to know if you’re gullible?


The next time someone starts a question with the words “did you know”, and you believe their amazing fact, and even worse, you tell somebody else this news with enthusiasm, consider yourself part of the noise. Here are a few examples: “Did you know there are alligators living in the sewers of New York City?” “Did you know that each year the average person swallows eight spiders in their sleep?” “Did you know that if you die in a dream, you die in real life?”

Unless you’ve recently watched an episode of MythBusters and you know for a fact it’s been proven to be true, it’s not true. If you don’t know positively that it’s a fact, then what you should say is, “You know, I heard…” That is completely acceptable. That encourages healthy conversation.

The temptation is there, even for the best of us. Earlier today my aunt sent me an email letting me know that one of her friends will be at the Dave Matthews concert this weekend in Nashville. In my reply I said, “Did you know that Dave Matthews is considered an African-American because he was born and grew up in South Africa? Then I had to stop myself and delete “did you know” and replace it with “I learned a few days ago that…”

Not always, but often “did you know” is a red flag that what comes after it is some random bit of knowledge that holds no truth. Test this theory out. Surely in the next few days, if not hours, you’ll hear somebody say it. Don’t call them out on it, just quietly retreat to Wikipedia so at least in your own heart, you can prove them to be an attention-grabbing “did-you-knower” without the goods.