Jake Trent

Conversations Without a Computer

Talking to people is not like talking to machines.

Not Only Programmers

People who talk to machines often sometimes need a reminder like this. And when we consider the number of people with a cell phone in their pocket (if we’d leave it in our pocket for 10 seconds) that’s pretty much all of us.

Here are a couple quick things to remember the next time we’re face to face with another human in a conversation.

Eye Contact

When we have been approached by another human, we should close the lid of our laptop, turn away from the TV on the wall, or put our phone in our pocket. If you can’t break away from your task at the moment, temporarily make eye contact and say so. That’s more polite than giving a subset of attention to the person you’ve been approached by as he yammers on. You’ll miss his message, but he’ll get one very clearly.

We show we value the other person and are going to focus on them and what they have to say when we make eye contact.

Start with a Greeting

People are not vending machines. We can walk up and begin ordering things, but it’s not polite, and it feels abrupt and presumptuous. It’s like opening a terminal, and starting right in…

> psql -d person
> select quickest from answer;

Start the conversation. This might simply be “hello”. It might be a more extended pleasantry. We might be a to-the-point kind of person, that’s fine, and we don’t need to beat around the bush. But we should at least acknowledge the person before trying to extract the information or action we want from him (which he doesn’t have to give… because he’s not a machine). This will show we value him first.

Linger and Listen

Humans are more complex than machines. We are emotional. We make up our minds based on heuristics and our experience in the moment with the people in the conversation.

A machine might be programmed to give certain outputs to certain inputs. Humans are less 1:1 and take in many more inputs than simply whatever the verbal queries are. Consider the other’s feelings. Have a back and forth. People can be persuaded. Take time to listen. It’s not a transaction with a machine – it’s a purposeful experience with a person. Linger.

Say Farewell

> \q

Done.

We don’t just quit the conversation after we get what we came for. When the end of the conversation has come, we need to wrap it up. This is an art in and of itself. It has been neglected in the era of text messages and chat. Writing “Sincerely, Jake” doesn’t even feel right any more.

When we’re done talking to someone, we smile and say good bye. Tell them it was good talking to them. Don’t just drop your eyes and turn away. Express thanks.

It’s the same with chat. How do I know I should sit here on my end waiting for your next sentence or not? Are we done yet? I guess you got what you wanted.

Make a pleasant end. It doesn’t have to be a flourish, just a reminder that we appreciate the person and what we’ve talked about.

Seems absolutely ridiculous to say: humans are not machines, and we should talk to them differently. But we need to hear it and think about it, because we sometimes act ridiculously to each other. But doing better will feel a lot better to everyone.

Sincerely, Jake