If you’re the kind of person who thinks of smart replies twenty minutes after a conversation ends, the techniques laid out here will help you come up with them much quicker. It’s a matter of thinking non-literally, non-conventionally, and non-linearly, and realizing that a conversation is an opportunity for play rather than information dissemination.
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A Touch of Witty Banter
What’s a sure recipe for a sparkling and enjoyable conversation? Of course, a dash of witty banter! While the previous chapters have trained you in the art of keeping the dialogue flowing like a river and prepped you to approach conversation as play, this chapter will equip you with the tools to spruce up your chats with chuckles courtesy of well-timed and clever quips.
A mindset for banter is a mindset for play and entertainment. Unfortunately, it’s probably not what you’re used to.
Currently, you are probably taking statements and questions from people at face value, not giving it a second thought, and staying in the literal track of a conversation. As a result, things may unintentionally take on the more businesslike feeling of an interview rather than a chat with a close friend.
Here’s a quick and simple illustration. If I asked someone how the weather was outside, a literal, face-value answer would be, “It just started to sprinkle. Looks cold.”
An answer from someone who had a humorous mindset would be significantly different: “It’s not wet enough to need an umbrella, but say goodbye to your hairdo.” The difference is in how literal one would interpret the question to be, and how literal the answer given is. Sounds a little bit like the two types of explanations you can give, right?
There’s a reason that some people seem to have funny quips every minute, while you might feel like you have one good retort every two weeks. The difference isn’t that they’re inherently funnier, it’s that they have the right mindset for it. They’re prepared for humor, and even hunting for it.
As you saw in the example above, most of us are stuck in the mode where we are too serious in our conversations. We think that just because they started a certain way, they need to fit a certain mold and follow that template or transcript to completion. We do this because we run on autopilot quite frequently, and we are habituated to allow opportunities slip away.
If someone asks about weather, yes, they want to know the temperature. But it doesn’t stop there. You can answer the question in many ways that don’t simply require you to answer it like a test question.
We have many expectations about where our conversations should go and how they should flow, but in reality, people don’t care about these expectations.
What’s more, these expectations often lead to conversations about things that neither party cares about. What makes this so awkward is that both parties are just too polite to say anything about the conversation. No one wants to talk about the weather for more than one sentence each.
So, how can we create a mindset where we instantly see more humor in our daily lives as a result of taking a different angle? It’s playing versus discussing, or amusing versus conversing. There are many ways to look at these two different modes of thought.
The default conversation approach most people use is to, of course, discuss and converse. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it can certainly lead to interesting revelations.
The problem is that it gets old quickly, and it can take on a serious and somber tone if that is your approach to a conversation. It’s not the ideal way to build rapport since it can be a dry discussion of facts and news, which doesn’t tell you anything about a person’s personality, nor does it allow you to show your own off.
People discuss current events with colleagues. People play around with and amuse friends with personal stories. See the difference?
The difference in mindset should be to focus on being more playful, not taking people at face value, and not worrying about answering questions literally. Just because someone asked about the weather doesn’t mean that you are only allowed to talk about the weather.
How can you do this?
You may actively think about how you react to someone in a playful manner. Imagine how you would react if you were five years old, and that is truly a better approximation for playful conversation that can build rapport.
If someone asks you about the weather, what are the different ways you can reply?
You can ask silly questions, you can say things solely to see how others respond. You might create outlandish hypotheticals, you can address the elephant in the room, you can allow your inner monologue to be read out loud, and so on.
You may generally view the other person as someone to joke around with, as opposed to making a professional first impression on. You don’t need to give people straight, exact answers. People are usually far more attracted to interesting and noteworthy answers. Unless you are giving an oral report, it’s not a stretch to say that they would always prefer something to catch their attention versus being dry and accurate.
Remember that you’re not necessarily looking to absorb or convey a set of facts, or extract certain information. Instead, your goal is simply to feel good around people and, most importantly, make them feel good around you. With this in mind, we can set the grounds for sharing witty banter.
Word of caution: be sure to actually answer someone’s question. You can be both humorous and informative. Make sure to occasionally check in with the other person to make sure that you aren’t going overboard with the lack of substantive content if they’re seeking it.