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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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How we talk to other people

Uploaded: Apr 26, 2022


Scene: A late afternoon cocktail party, following an all-day conference attended by 200 people. I walked in, looked around and realized I did not know a soul. So, I relied on my usual way to get acquainted: “Hi, my name is Diana. Did you enjoy that last meeting today?”

We chatted for a bit, and as I shifted from my right to left foot, I soon knew that the two of us had nothing to say to each other. I excused myself, and went to another gentleman. “Hi, my name is Diana. What did you like most about today’s program?”

Well, we talked for the next 20 minutes – not about his favorite session but about big cities in the country, our extremely partisan Congress, what children learn today, et cetera. Great fun.

Similar experiences have occurred at other events I attended.

My conclusion: Given a room of say, 100 people, I could discuss endless topics with half of them; the other half was the reverse. And we gravitate toward those with whom we are comfortable talking with.

Why? It’s simply the chemistry between two individuals.

How we talk and communicate with each other as well as styles of talking has become a keen interest of mine recently.

I belong to a couple of discussion groups and am aware of the “air time” consumed by some to make a point. In one book group, Sally starts talking about her analysis of a character and soon I hear, “The older man in the book reminds me of my grandfather who once was . . . Eight minutes later, after rambling about where he was born and all he did, she finally gets to his death, “poor soul.” Her fsamily narration had nothing to do with the book.

In another group where we discuss politics, one starts by announcing, “I have only five points to make here” – for 10 minutes of air time. Another member slowly glides from one idea to another, as thoughts enter his head.

I think he’s done when he is silent, and interrupt him with a related idea, but apparently, he never hears me and keeps on going for another 10 minutes. I say to myself, this is not a discussion – it’s a monologue!

True confession time: I was born near New York City in a small suburban community, and when my parents had their friends over, I noticed at age 8 they all chattered at once. When the person with the loudest voice kept on going, they finally listened to her – until she was interrupted.

New Yorkers do interrupt – it’s often the only way a person can actually become a part of the conversation.

Admittedly, I interrupt, but, in self-defense, I only add a sentence or two to provide additional knowledge to what a person is proclaiming -- I think.

I have a friend from New Jersey who interrupts and completely changes the conversation, which is, admittedly, annoying.

I came across an NPR program recently where the moderators talked about two basic speaking styles: One is Cooperative Overlap, which is where that person breaks into the words of the other, and starts talking before the other is finished. They mentioned that friends from New York might tend that way. A moderator called it an alternate name, High Involvement. That interruption might be to add information cooperatively, or grab back the conversation.

The other style is the High Consideration, where that person pauses before speaking, takes turns, and, of course, sometimes never gets to talk. This is called Interruptive Overlap.

They noted that there can be a problem with High Consideration, where the assertive style person might feel the passive person is not involved in the conversation, and not listening. The other moderator admits that is her style and so she has trained herself to give other signs that she is listening, nodding, or hand movement.

Conversation styles also depend not only where you were raised, but where you are living. In the New York, people get together and every topic during the evening is plunked on the table as discussable – be it politics or religion or (ahem) sex. People argue and when the group gets up to leave, they all proclaim, “Wasn’t that a great conversation!” No hurt feelings, no lost friendships just a lot of new ideas to think about.

When I moved to the Chicago area, politics, religion and sex were verboten to discuss, which, for me, made for boring conversations. But Chicagoans still had a way of finding out about you: “Have you registered to vote yet? Oh great, which party?” Or, “Have you found a church yet to join?” Or, “I hear that he is gay. Do you know if that is so?” Politics, religion and sex -- just a different approach to bring up these topics.

Here in California, especially with women, I think the code is to say nice things all the time – a lovely but unrealistic thought to me. I mean if you always say nice things, then I don’t know how you really feel about something or someone.

To that point: I was riding to our book club with a friend and I asked her if she enjoyed the book. “No,’ she responded. “It was poorly written and boring.”

At our book discussion, she said she enjoyed the book and wanted to read another one by this author.

When we got back in the car, I said I thought she told me she didn’t like the book. “I didn’t, but I also did not want to hurt Alice by not liking what she chose.”

“But the purpose of a book discussion is to analyze the book and discuss what’s good and bad about it,” I told her. She nodded, but added, “I don’t want to hurt the person who chose it.”

A wonderful sentiment, but in my estimation, it defeats the purpose of a book club—to analyze a book and learn something from it.

So, conversations come in all shapes and forms in our country today. I guess we each have to figure out where we fit in and whether we talk too little or too much.

How about you, dear reader?
Democracy.
What is it worth to you?

Comments

Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Apr 26, 2022 at 6:10 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

I've lived in California all my life, and I don't always say "nice things." You always know where you stand with me -- good, bad or indifferent. I try to keep in mind that some things are better left unsaid.

People who talk too much are annoying.

Diana makes me laugh. I think that's a nice thing to say...


Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 27, 2022 at 7:17 am

Bystander is a registered user.

From my experience, people are afraid to say what they think on certain topics because different opinions nowadays often end up becoming arguments that end up with name calling or similar. There are people who are unable to accept other opinions without becoming very unpleasant. It is not just sex, religion and politics, but almost any topic quickly turns divisive. Even something safe like sport is turned into political or trans arguments. Weather used to be a safe topic, but it ends up as a discussion on climate.

The art of conversation used to be taught in "finishing school". With almost all topics being trigger points, we have to learn or relearn the art of disagreeing harmoniously.


Posted by Rick Fetters, a resident of Stanford,
on Apr 27, 2022 at 8:31 am

Rick Fetters is a registered user.

Conversation and discourse are often dictated by the company one is keeping.

Adherences to political correctness also stifles certain conversations as one can easily be held accountable for remarks that offend others. This is especially true when making stereotypical jokes about people of color or the LGBTQ community.
Only comedian Dave Chappelle can get away with mocking transgenders.

The key is to simply play along with the topic(s) of conversation and the company you are keeping.

Or simply walk away.

In other words, if one is hanging out with a bunch of liberal erudites and progressive do-gooders, it is often best to hold one's tongue and chart a PC course rather than ridiculing the people or issues being discussed.

On the other hand, if you are hanging out with a bunch of MAGA people and feel the same way on certain issues, now is the ideal time to let one's bigotry and contempt flags fly as there will be a mutual consensus.

The other alternative...one can simply sit alone on a hillside and contemplate the perfect red or blue universe of one's own choosing.

The old adage, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" succinctly applies.


Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 27, 2022 at 8:50 am

Bystander is a registered user.

The above comment shows exactly why it is so difficult.

The premise made seems wise, until the underlying judgment calls show that it is not easy.

I would add, I agree with many people. I disagree with many people. Both sides of an issue should be able to voice without name calling. Sadly that does not happen often nowadays. It is alright to have an opinion, but it is not ok for that opinion to be used as a judgment call and condemned as a result. No wonder people don't talk to each other any more.


Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 27, 2022 at 8:53 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Correction (no way of editing a comment here for typos).

I agree with many people. I disagree with the same people on a different topic.


Posted by Elaine Winters, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Apr 27, 2022 at 9:12 am

Elaine Winters is a registered user.

Another alternative is to merely circulate through the gathering and eavesdrop, preferably with a glass of wine (or a cocktail) in your hand.

Most people are full of horsefeathers so why get dragged into a meaningless conversation that will eventually lead to nowhere?

And when it comes to social rudeness, New Yorkers and Bostonians tend to take the cake but this is merely a part of their urban culture as anyone who has ridden a New York City subway, or attended a baseball game at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park will attest.

Many big city Easterners are wound too tight because of the aggravations of having to deal with the daily hassles and gridlock associated with densely populated areas.

As a result, many of them eventually move to California to escape the pitfalls of mass congestion and gridlock.


Posted by Penny Baker, a resident of Community Center,
on Apr 27, 2022 at 9:58 am

Penny Baker is a registered user.

I enjoy attending as many social gatherings as I can because it provides an ideal opportunity to meet eligible men regardless of whether they are married or single.

The key is to focus on non-controversial topics and to let them do most of the talking as many men do not appreciate women who are outspoken 'know it all' types.

The key is to be charming, attractive, and a good listener.


Posted by Barbara G, a resident of Mayfield,
on Apr 27, 2022 at 10:34 am

Barbara G is a registered user.

I'm afraid that my communications style is a bit detached. If someone has a problem, I'm happy to listen and ask questions and try to help them identify the resources they need to solve the problem.

But... I have little desire to bond with other humans over long, rambling stories about their Uncle Leo's bursitis or Auntie Clara's toenail fungus. I don't "do" dinner, lunch, coffee, vacations, or phone calls and prefer being alone and communicating when convenient via email or text.

I'm happy to help anyone who needs help, though. It's the best I can manage.


Posted by Barbara G, a resident of Mayfield,
on Apr 27, 2022 at 10:34 am

Barbara G is a registered user.

I'm afraid that my communications style is a bit detached. If someone has a problem, I'm happy to listen and ask questions and try to help them identify the resources they need to solve the problem.

But... I have little desire to bond with other humans over long, rambling stories about their Uncle Leo's bursitis or Auntie Clara's toenail fungus. I don't "do" dinner, lunch, coffee, vacations, or phone calls and prefer being alone and communicating when convenient via email or text.

I'm happy to help anyone who needs help, though. It's the best I can manage.


Posted by Melinda Capers, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on Apr 27, 2022 at 10:44 am

Melinda Capers is a registered user.

Perhaps the KEY is not to allow anyone to define who you are by avoiding certain types of social gatherings.

Venerable axioms are also quite useless.

For example: if "birds of a feather flock together" then why do "opposites attract?"

There is a tiresome song by Barbra Streisand that I have grown to detest over the past few decades where she sings, "people who need people are the luckiest people in the world."

Not so. People who need other people to validate their existence are the 'unluckiest' people in the world and pathetic.

DeCartes once wrote, "I think, therefore I am"...so who needs others to define one's own private world?

And the same logic applies to those who stupidly make someone else (or others) responsible for their own happiness.

Perhaps Sean Penn said it best in Terrence Mallick's novel and subsequent movie 'A Thin Red Line.'

When asked if he ever got lonely, Penn's character replied, "Only when I am around other people."


Posted by Green Gables, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 27, 2022 at 11:41 am

Green Gables is a registered user.

Just be friendly and not doing the one-upmanship which Palo Alto residents are known to do and have for many, many years.


Posted by Alan Baker, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 27, 2022 at 11:58 am

Alan Baker is a registered user.

For those who are engaged in social media, Elon Musk's hostile takeover of Twitter will hopefully provide ample opportunity for all voices to be be heard regardless of whether the postings are offensive, misleading, or outright lies.

This is a positive step as everyone has a right to express their opinions and only the card-carrying semi-literate and undereducated people fall prey to undocumented hearsay and/or everything/anything they read on the internet.

A truly free opinion-oriented world is free of censorship and gatekeeping moderators regardless of any perceived and/or offensive, non-PC commentaries.

Twitter tried to bury Hunter Biden's questionable activities (including his laptop) and this coverup was eventually proven to be contrived misinformation by a biased liberal social media platform.

While Fox News, CNN, and MNBC all have their biased opinions and devoted followers, we should simply overlook their sanctimonious blatherings as advertiser sponsored BS, unless we are genuinely incapable of thinking for ourselves.

Most people cannot which explains the current situation.


Posted by Dave Pierce, a resident of Woodside,
on Apr 27, 2022 at 8:04 pm

Dave Pierce is a registered user.

"...men do not appreciate women who are outspoken 'know it all' types."

"The key is to be charming, attractive, and a good listener."

As a divorced man, I can attest to your insights and would hope that there are a few women left in this world who concur with your infinite wisdom.

There are also many men who need to become better listeners as well, even though your mate's conversational topics may seem trivial and/or self-serving.

When dealing with the opposite sex, I have always found it beneficial to listen attentively and to always concur with their negative opinions of other women.

Developing good conversation skills along with perfunctory conversational abilities should be taught in high school.


Posted by Lorraine Johnson, a resident of Los Altos,
on Apr 27, 2022 at 8:35 pm

Lorraine Johnson is a registered user.

I am surprised that no one brought up the introvert-extrovert factor when it comes to participation in group conversations.

Some people are more outgoing while others are more reserved.

Dominant-submissive personalities also come into play.

Confidence and self-assertiveness are other considerations.

Sometimes the most interesting people are the quieter ones.


Posted by Jim Rivers, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Apr 28, 2022 at 7:54 am

Jim Rivers is a registered user.

Outside of mandatory business meetings, I generally do not initiate conversations with women I am unfamiliar with because: (1) I am married, (2) outside of mutual sports interests and/or shared recreational pastimes, there are few remaining topics of any significance to talk about, and (3) some of the more attractive women might get the wrong impression and suspect that you are hitting up on them.


Posted by Melissa Pastore, a resident of Blossom Valley,
on Apr 28, 2022 at 8:44 am

Melissa Pastore is a registered user.

I tend to shy away from group conversations if it involves petty small talk and gossip.

With iPhone texting and Facetime options, there is really no need to communicate verbally or in person anymore as any conversation can easily take place from two different locales.

My parents did not have that option when they were younger because the technology did not exist.

I have never seen a pay phone and cannot even imagine someone tied to a wall and feeding coins into a telephone.

My father showed me his old college typewriter and something called a slide rule which he says are no longer used these days. He also mentioned that a modern smartphone has more computing power than the massive computers used in the 1969 lunar landing.

Though these are troubling times for younger people, having to go back to the times when people did things the old way would pose major inconveniences in these more modern times.

And when it comes to the future, my late grandfather used to tell me that he would rather roll the dice at 25 than at 70 because by the time one reaches 65, they already have one foot in the grave.


Posted by Lars Dietrich, a resident of another community,
on Apr 28, 2022 at 9:36 am

Lars Dietrich is a registered user.

Concurring as one only needs a smartphone or a computer nowadays to carry on a conversation and this allows a person to simultaneously multi-task.

Social media platforms also allow for a wider conversational audience.

Technological innovations such as ZOOM and Facetime make conversing easy and reduce the necessity of having to deal with in-person interactions.

My parents who are aging Baby Boomers have told me me that good communication skills are important but after watching and listening to the likes of our elder-aged world leaders (e.g. an abrasive Donald Trump, Joe Biden's seemingly endless verbal gaffes, and a pugnacious Putin et al) I must beg to differ.

It is time for the older politicians to step aside and let the younger generation assume the direction of our country as there are way too many AARP eligible seniors still involved in running the show
and senility is not an option.


Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 28, 2022 at 10:07 am

Bystander is a registered user.

As I said above, the future is lonely people.

"All the lonely people, where do they come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong".

The future is loneliness and aloneness. No wonder stack and pack rabbit hutches are what people want. There will be no families, no couples growing old together, just people attached to their phones and having nobody to love.


Posted by MacKensie Hamber, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Apr 28, 2022 at 10:13 am

MacKensie Hamber is a registered user.

"...senility is not an option."

America has a gerontocracy problem in Washington DC as the average age of our legislators is 64.

Senator Dianne Feinstein is 88, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is 80, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 82, and Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa is 88.

Even Joe Biden is too old at.to be POTUS and if he decides to run again in 2024 he will be 82 and potentially 86 at the end of the second term. Add 78 year-old Donald Trump to the list as well.

There should be set age limits on all of our elected officials (including appointed Supreme Court justices) and 70 should be the maximum cut-off point.

Why should the younger population have to suffer at the hands of those who still remember (or cannot remember) pay phones?


Posted by Justin Baker, a resident of Stanford,
on Apr 28, 2022 at 10:31 am

Justin Baker is a registered user.

"As I said above, the future is lonely people."

"All the lonely people, where do they come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong".

@Bystander

Eleanor Rigby was written back in 1966 and so it is obvious that people were also lonely back then, long before the advent of cyber-related interactions, conversations, and compressed housing.

It would also be safe to assume that some people are lonely regardless of past, present, and future time-frames.

A suggested reading...The Lonely Crowd written by sociologist David Riesman back in (gasp) 1950.


Posted by Mallory Foreman, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 28, 2022 at 11:46 am

Mallory Foreman is a registered user.

Getting back to conversations, I think most people regardless of their age are sad and lonely even though they may not want to admit it.

Young people often turn to cyberland as a social outlet while many old people tend to make small talk with grocery store cashiers or anyone willing to listen to their petty blatherings.

I can sort of understand the old people as many of their friends and colleagues are dead but younger people are getting too reliant on social media as a means of socializing.

Where this is all headed remains unknown. In another 1-2 decades a majority of the Baby Boomers will be deceased and technology will have advanced even further enabling additional ease of communication.

Most people have nothing constructive to offer conversationally other than their personal opinions and this can get quite monotonous at times.

Like who cares?


Posted by Fred Stamos, a resident of Castro City,
on Apr 28, 2022 at 4:05 pm

Fred Stamos is a registered user.

> Most people have nothing constructive to offer conversationally other than their personal opinions and this can get quite monotonous at times.

As a former bartender, I can relate to this comment and I imagine countless hairdressers would also agree.

Nevertheless, good conversational skills are often necessary to get ahead in one's professional career as networking is oftentimes the primary way to develop and ensure career path objectives later down the road.

I also agree with the younger generation of voters who would like to see all of the older legislators put out to pasture.

At 80+ years of age, many octogenarians are starting to get a bit senile and as a nation we cannot afford to have any feeble-minded individuals in charge of running the country.

The aforementioned U.S. senators, Speaker of the House, former POTUS, and current POTUS should not consider running for re-election as they are all out of touch with the modern world.

Former California U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer retired with dignity.

Why can't these others?


Posted by Ron Adelson, a resident of Gemello,
on Apr 30, 2022 at 11:21 am

Ron Adelson is a registered user.

Though this discussion is shifting away from conversational approaches, perhaps it provides a new topic for Ms. Diamond who always raises pertinent points in her blogs.

While old (or elderly people over 70) should always have the right to vote for their political candidates of choice, senior citizens should not be placed in a position where they can make key decisions that will impact the future of our country.

There are very few elders who are innovative or visionary at such a late stage in their lives and they should make way for newer voices and perspectives.

The direction of America's future should not be relegated to tribal elders living in the past.


Posted by Cecily Kendricks, a resident of Stanford,
on Apr 30, 2022 at 1:12 pm

Cecily Kendricks is a registered user.

Though they were loath to acknowledge the possibility over 50 years ago, card- carrying members of the youth-counterculture generation of the 1960s are now the old people in America and seriously folks, 50 is not the new 70!

My grandfather looks so out of place nowadays with his bald head and gray ponytail.


Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 30, 2022 at 3:22 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

There is a lot of ageism in these comments.

There was a time when the elders in a community were considered wise. The elders had the experience of raising children, paying taxes for many years, seeing changes - some good and some bad, of living through hard times and not so hard times, of seeing good leaders and not so good leaders, of living through times of war, times of hardship, times that were fearful and times when life was exciting.

Those under the age of 40 have seen very little real life. All they know is relative peace. They have lived with an abundance of almost everything consumable both to eat, to make life easier, and to be entertained with. They know little about being sent off to war, fighting an enemy who look as young as you, as waiting eagerly each day for a letter or telegram from a loved one, when the phone was always the opportunity for a chat, rather than junk calls, and we knew our neighbors as well as we knew our family.

Today's youth have great technology, but they are unable to change a tire or cook a simple meal without a freezer or microwave for the most part (some do of course). They don't know about having measles or polio, having to live without antibiotics or MacDonalds.

I am pleased like most of us that are older that we do have a life without some of these terrors from the past. But the truth is that those terrors have given us experience that does make us wiser than our youth understand. We were all young once and know what it is like to be young, healthy and full of energy. What the young don't know is how it feels to be older and unheard. We learned from mistakes. The young don't even have the opportunity of making a mistake without it being broadcast all over the internet!

I would like us to consider the wisdom that comes from years. Listen to grandparents, they have often done more than the young can possibly imagine. Their experience can be worth hearing and it might be enjoyable to hear also.


Posted by Loren Blass, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 1, 2022 at 8:16 am

Loren Blass is a registered user.

"I would like us to consider the wisdom that comes from years. Listen to grandparents,"

My grandparents shared a lot of valued wisdom and common sense but the same cannot be said of the geriatric politicians cited in the preceding posts.


Posted by Martin Vasquez, a resident of Castro City,
on May 1, 2022 at 8:45 am

Martin Vasquez is a registered user.

• There should be set age limits on all of our elected officials (including appointed Supreme Court justices) and 70 should be the maximum cut-off point.

If such an age limit were implemented, 71% of the current U.S. Senators would be forced to retire...a good thing.

The late Strom Thurmond (R-SC) served in the U.S. Senate until he was 100 and Robert Byrd (D-W.VA) served until he was 92. Both were suffering from major cognitive decline as is Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) whose mental difficiencies were exposed in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Commercial airline pilots have a mandatory retirement age at 65 and air traffic controllers at 56.

The same mandates should also apply to the U.S. presidency as both Donald Trump and Joe Biden are too old and/or mentally challenged to be making key decisions that will affect our country for years to come.


Posted by Lara Kendricks, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 1, 2022 at 11:03 am

Lara Kendricks is a registered user.

The bottom line is that it is the voters who continue to re-elect these dinosaurs.

And since the Baby Boomers still constitute the largest voting bloc in America, chances are we will probably have to endure another decade of 60 through 80 year olds walking through the halls of Congress completely out of touch with a changing world.

Please make them all go away or seek retirement.

There are countless other outlets for old people to pursue and partake in during their golden years...enjoying the company of their young grandchildren, playing mah jong, or embarking on a vacation cruise to parts unknown.

But they should not be in Congress, the White House, or the Supreme Court.


Posted by Martin Kellar, a resident of Stanford,
on May 1, 2022 at 11:29 am

Martin Kellar is a registered user.

President Zelensky of Ukraine is 44 years old and on top of his game.

Putin at 69, Biden at 79, and Trump at 76 are obviously not.

And the same probably applies to any legislator or judge over 80.


Posted by Erubial Chacon, a resident of Slater,
on May 1, 2022 at 11:44 am

Erubial Chacon is a registered user.

"Those under the age of 40 have seen very little real life. All they know is relative peace. They have lived with an abundance of almost everything consumable both to eat, to make life easier, and to be entertained with."

@Bystander

This delusion may apply to children of the privileged white upper middle class but certainly not for poorer people of color where everyday is a struggle to get by.

Get real.


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