What a “casual conversation” actually is.

If you’re into psychology, informally especially, there are different theories about the functions of the human brain/personality and how to categorize them.

There is:

  • The Big 5
  • Myers-Briggs
  • Enneagram

The science behind them is highly-contested, however, from all of them we can be certain of this, brains have patterns in how they are wired. Patterns that are debatable, but still common enough that most people can see them.

If we think that the human brains has functions handling:

  • Logic
  • Emotions
  • Task-orientation
  • Ethics
  • Taking in data
  • Recalling data
  • Creating ideas
  • Visualizing Concepts

Then in general, in a relaxed state, a person is capable of moving swiftly between these states. If you are having a conversation that shifts the brain between these, but only engages them lightly, you are having a casual conversation.

What if the concept requires teaching someone calculus? You are no longer having a casual conversation with most people. To pick up the calculus topic, the logic functions of the brain as well as concept visualization must kick into overdrive and that requires people to drop the other functions in exchange for the extra processing power.

Take a business meeting where you are discussing future planning. Participants in the meeting have various ideas. The meeting starts off light and cordial, then as the ideas are flowing, past results are being recalled, and each persons’ visions are attempting to be realized, it becomes easy to drop our emotional handling and to start being more adversarial in our conversation. It’s not that people mean to be, but that our brains are requiring the efforts we would normally be using to manage the relationship into the hard task of understanding everything being presented from many different parties and many different directions. It requires more processing power than we have mentally, and so some things start to fall through the cracks. This is where all difficult conversations lie.

In college, I studied the Eames, one of the most famous couples in design. An interesting things about Charles and Ray Eames is that when they made proposals they created videos. Not revolutionary today, but 60-70 years ago it was. People didn’t interrupt videos and saved their questions until the end. Thinking about it, what they were doing was minimizing the energy of the brain that they were trying to persuade. Their audience could stay connected to their emotions, their logic, their ethics and more. Video over a paper proposal has the following benefits:

  • Lowers the need for the brain to visualize the concept since it is presented visually
  • Lowers the need to recall data as it can be presented at the exact time on screen along with the point that is being made by it
  • Lower their task orientation as their brain tries to make sense of what to do with information in a paper proposal, as the video points them in the direction they want to go with time as it goes on.

“It’s just business” is the slogan of many people who turned down offers people put their heart and soul into. It’s said that way to signify emotion was left out of it. But what if you want emotion to be the way to sway someone?

Then you need to lower the cognitive needs of the logical and conceptual parts of the brain to make it easier to appeal to the emotional side. That’s exactly why the Eames were successful.

If you often find yourself in difficult conversation internally or with customers at work, something worth reflecting on is the format of the meeting. Is it bouncing around too much and too open-ended? This can make it hard to follow. Can we submit ideas on paper, then categorize, organize and review them in a conversational format? Can people submit videos of their ideas? Can people write the ideas down into a narrative?

All of these ideas lower the cognition required to understand and up the likelihood that everyone will make better decisions regarding them. I’ve mentioned it before, but “Show, Don’t Tell” (I also recognize that this blog starts with telling, but that is for a reason.) is important for all of the reasons listed above, it lowers the amount of brain power needed to process an idea.

Casual conversations are important parts of doing great work, but the great work comes from finding means and methods to make difficult conversations casual ones.