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.