Double Explanations and Better Compliments

Regardless of who you’re talking to, you’re likely to be asked the same set of generic questions. These include what do you do, how was your day, and others like these. You’ll want to have two separate answers prepared for such questions, one of which is interesting and unique (the layman explanation), while the other is more informative (the expert explanation). Being too esoteric upon first meeting someone isn’t always helpful, and can confuse and render others speechless.

Learn to give good compliments. This is also deceptively easy. Compliment things that people have control over, or made a choice about. Don’t choose genetic qualities like height or eye color; instead choose things that people actively put effort into. People feel comfortable and flattered, and then start to open up.

Use Double Explanations

During a typical conversation, certain patterns arise.

It really boils down to the first ten questions you will probably answer when you meet someone new. By keeping these questions in mind and strategically selecting your answers, your conversations can be more satisfying and you can take advantage of these patterns by making them work for you.

At the very least, you will be able to extend the life of a typical conversation. Know these patterns and come up with distinct ways to draw out more answers, extend the conversation, and otherwise pack more perceived value into the exchange.

Regardless of who and where you meet someone, I can tell you the first ten questions and topics that will likely come up. These first ten questions can set you on a path toward flow, or they can set the tone for stagnancy and boredom.

Usually, it goes like this: How are you? How was your weekend? Where are you from? Where did you go to school? Do you have siblings? What do you do? What did you study?

It’s important to enter any conversation with fully prepared answers for these common questions. If you let these small opportunities pass, you end up with boring and unengaging answers. Think of these questions as invitations to say something interesting.

By preparing for them, you can come up with an answer that will engage people while still answering the question. You come off as creative and interesting because you are ready with something unexpected to say. That’s where double answers, as the section title implies, come in.

The first step is to come up with an interesting answer for the questions you know you’ll be asked. But keep your answer short and simple—a “layman’s” explanation. Your goal is to give information in an interesting and unique way.

For example, when somebody asks, “What do you do?” a dry, boring answer is, “I’m a lawyer.” Instead, your answer should be something short and pithy like, “I file paperwork for a living,” or “I’m paid to argue with people.” The first path will probably not lead to intrigued questions, while the second path will certainly require closer examination, and that’s just what you want. That’s flow.

You get people curious. You get them to open up about what you have to say, and then you can proceed with the double explanation. To come up with powerful double explanations to common questions, start by constructing layman’s explanations for each question you know you will be asked.

Again, a layman’s explanation is simple, provides context, is unexpected, and draws people in. It prompts people to be interested in what you’re saying.

It gives you an opening to further explain yourself, and it overall lays a far wider net or funnel to engage people. You stay general enough so that you can reach the most people, but specific enough so that you’re not boring or without substance.

The layman’s explanations are the first step to a double explanation. The second step involves the expert explanation. Expert explanations are what you offer once you’ve drawn people in with your simplified or layman’s take on the topic. It’s the second layer that you should have prepared for moments when it appears that someone wants to engage you further on the same topic.

This explanation draws their attention. Now that you’ve hooked the other party, it opens the conversation to deeper levels of engagement.

This also comes in handy when you run into somebody who actually understands the context of your answer. For example, at a dinner party, the other person might actually be a fellow attorney. When you say, “I file paperwork for a living, ” she might respond with, “So do I, that’s a big part of my job,” and then it turns out that she’s also a lawyer. The other party will quickly grasp your layman’s explanation and ask you for a deeper explanation, which you will have prepared beforehand.

Essentially, the layman’s explanation is an introduction, and the expert explanation is a deeper look to reveal more, if you’re prompted to do so.

Following the example above, a good “expert explanation” would be, “Well I’m a corporate lawyer and specialize in business transactions and corporate filing. Lots of corporation creation, and also some investments and loan documents.”

Always have these double explanations prepared. Lead with a layman’s explanation because these make you look interesting, and prevent you from missing a chance to make an impression. They make you appear witty, and they open the conversation to deeper levels of engagement. However, ensure that your responses do not seem rehearsed. It can be fairly easy to spot someone who is mechanically repeating lines they’ve rote learned, so pause for a moment or two before replying.

Here’s another example:

A layman’s answer to the question of “What did you do last weekend?” could be, “I went skiing, and generally flattened the snow a lot with my butt from falling.” This question can go either way. The person can say, “Well, that’s awesome” and then move on to another topic, or they can choose to talk about finer details of skiing.

If you notice that this person is asking for more details, is themselves a skier, or is genuinely drawn in by your opening statement, you can offer the expert explanation.

“Oh I went on two Black Diamonds, one Blue Diamond and got fitted for new ski poles because my old ones were bent from going over moguls.” These terms will only make sense to somebody who goes skiing a lot. This will let the other person know that you know what you’re talking about, and that you share their same interests.

At the same time, you don’t want to appear as if you’re throwing around a lot of big words just because you can. It’s a surefire way of being perceived as arrogant. If you sense that the other person is interested but not someone who skis, simplify your expert explanation so that it’s easily understandable for them.

Once you know the conversation won’t remain superficial, you can unleash your expert explanation on people to create engagement and immediately capitalize on a common interest.

The bottom line is that by preparing beforehand, you can make conversations take a life of their own. And the good news is, as I have mentioned, conversations often involve questions that aren’t all that new. They’re very predictable. If you were to boil down all your conversations, they could be summed up in about ten questions, so it’s easy to prepare.

By being aware of the most common questions and coming up with maybe three interesting stories or opening lines for each, you’ll go a long way in becoming a better conversationalist.

More Effective Compliments

Compliments can help your conversations last longer and make you the object of someone’s attention and affection. The trick is you need to know how to use them properly.

I recall once when I was a child, I was complimented on my hair and eyes by a substitute teacher looking to make conversation. The only reason I remember it is because it was clear that the substitute was trying to make a good impression on me, so she kept complimenting me on the same things every time she saw me.

Every time I came into the room from recess, every time I walked in into class in the morning, every time I came back from the bathroom… even as a child I knew something was weird.

Unfortunately, a lot of people think that compliments are like candy. They believe the more candy they give out, the more other people will like them.

That is, until the inevitable sugar rush crash or cavity. More is not always better.

On paper, compliments are great things, but if you use them improperly or in the wrong context, whatever good they can produce is flushed down the toilet. The substitute teacher from my youth took all of the goodwill she had with me and promptly flushed it down the toilet because it felt so unnatural and forced to be complimented so much.

Compliments are universally thought of as good things, but sometimes they can make you look untrustworthy or like a flatterer. Compliments from someone who gives them out easily and frequently have little value. However, if you’re perceived as the kind of person who compliments or appreciates things only when he genuinely sees value in them, your words will carry much more meaning.

As I’ve said often in this book, your main objective is to ensure that both of you develop a mutual comfort and confidence. A ham-fisted compliment doesn’t help create that effect.

When was the last time somebody complimented you? What did you feel when you heard the compliment?

It feels good to be told that you’re doing something right, or you have some redeeming value. People like to feel validated and appreciated. Paying compliments can go a long way in producing these feelings. In conversations, compliments create an air of positivity, which can boost the overall level of comfort people have with you. A properly paid compliment can go a long way in making you look good in other people’s eyes.

This is not only in your mind. You start breathing a certain way. Your blood starts pumping a certain way. There is a correlation between your emotional state and physical response. The reverse is also true. When somebody says something positive to you, your brain produces neurotransmitters that are associated with a sense of well-being and happiness.

If, for example, one of your friends constantly compliments you and never fails to make you feel better about yourself, you probably start looking forward to seeing that person. You might not be able to put your finger on it, but you just want to be around him or her. What has actually happened is that your brain has paired this friend with the positive feeling of being complimented, thus creating an automatic reaction of feeling good every time you’re with that person. Eventually, this positive conditioning becomes somewhat addictive.

When you’re around people who constantly make you feel good, you want to be around them more often. The flip side is also true. If you come across people that are predictably negative and put you in a bad place mentally and emotionally, your tendency is to run away from them. See, conditioning also works in such a way that your brain comes to pair certain people with negative emotions, making you instantly feel ill at ease when they’re around.