Conversational Styles

I’ve been viewing social interactions lately through two spectrums – word count and conversational deference.

Word count is simple – the total amount of words peoples say, and if it’s high or low. Some people talk a lot, others don’t talk very much.

Deference is the amount of dominance you use when speaking. When two people start to talk at the same time, whoever lets the other person go is displaying deference. Someone who interrupts is displaying nondeference. Allowing someone to interrupt is displaying deference. Continuing to speak despite indications that the listener would like to chime in is displaying nondeference.

So there are then four categories, and because I have a guilty pleasure of personality tests and fun identity words, here’s my attempt to name the four styles.

High word count | high deference: The Catalyst.
People like this I view as conversationally meaty; they propel conversation forward, fill silences, but easily step back once other people want to participate. They are catalytic, and provide a steady background for the rest of the conversation to take place. When done poorly it can sound like nervous jabber, when done well it draws other people out without pressure or obligation.

High word count | low deference: The Elbow.
People like this I view as conversationally aggressive and forceful (whether they’re aware of it or not). They treat conversation as a service to them and their ideas. When done poorly it’s annoying and pushy, when done well it’s useful in leadership situations and for authoritatively directing the flow of attention to something better.

Low word count | high deference: The Wallpaper.
People like this I view as shy or thoughtful; will typically not speak much and not try to speak much if they feel like people don’t want to listen. They treat conversation distantly, as something they usually aren’t heavily involved in. Can be a pushover or introverted or both. When done poorly it’s indicative of insecurity, when done well it can provide a service of listening and attention that many people crave.

Low word count | low deference: The James Bond. 
People who speak rarely but expect to be listened to; treats conversation as generally unworthy or boring, and only selectively determines it as worth their time. When done poorly it can come across as a pretentious arrogant superiority complex, done well it can be mysterious, dominant, and charismatic.

4 thoughts on “Conversational Styles”

  1. What would you say about the perspective that perhaps these styles could be viewed through a situational framework based on a history of reward (or technically speaking, reinforcement)? It may not be immutable as four separate conditions of personality, but rather a spectrum partially controlled by environment (situation).

    For example, when Person A knows a lot about wine and is in a vineyard with others sharing the same views, they display the same word count and deference as “The Catalyst”, but this same person when preparing for a 5K Run in the presence of more experienced runners displays the characteristics of “The Wallpaper”.

    Situation one is a condition where Person A has a history of knowledge on the topic, and being listened to. They have both the breadth of information to discuss it at lengths, and the history of reward with hearing others take an active interest in the topic as well. This person might even verge on “The Elbow” if they’ve had a stronger history of being listened to with rapt attention and rewarded by this.

    But this same person might not have that same confidence of standing when placed in the other role. The 5K is completely different. Talking with runners isn’t their usual wheel-house. Rate of speech would drop, deference might increase if they are aware of others taking on the roles of either Catalyst or Elbow. Once they did gain the knowledge, we may expect it to swing back up to a “high-reward” stance like Catalyst or Elbow, but not completely frigid in a specific repertoire of traits in every single situation.

  2. Most of these make sense. It’s the last one that gets me. Maybe it’s because it’s got “The James Bond” as the tag. I’m thinking James Bond often has much higher deference. It feels like a person’s looks/charisma are the primary influences on this type since their social finesse isn’t front and center. Without some extra kind of appeal, such as physical features or an attractive voice or something, I feel like this type is a complete socially failure. You may envision James Bond here, but I’m thinking the autistic and socially awkward. Their low deference could also mean “I have no interest in this so I won’t engage”, or “this is stupid. I’m leaving”.) It’s a random-ass example, but this person would be the low word + low deference type in my book:

    Do you have any other positive examples of low word + low deference people or characters? I’m genuinely curious

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