Tag: Marcus Tullius Cicero

The Art of Ordinary Conversation

Some general guidelines for good conversation.

Bring out the cleverness in others.

Jean de La Brùyere:

The true spirit of conversation consists more in bringing out the cleverness of others than in showing a great deal of it yourself; he who goes away pleased with himself and his own wit is also greatly pleased with you.

Preserve silence.

Via – Martine’s Hand-book of Etiquette, and Guide to True Politeness:

The power of preserving silence is the very first requisite to all who wish to shine, or even please in discourse; and those who cannot preserve it, have really no business to speak. … The silence that, without any deferential air, listens with polite attention, is more flattering than compliments, and more frequently broken for the purpose of encouraging others to speak, than to display the listener’s own powers. This is the really eloquent silence. It requires great genius—more perhaps than speaking—and few are gifted with the talent …

Never give sharp answers.

Via – Martine’s Hand-book of Etiquette, and Guide to True Politeness:

Never give short or sharp answers in ordinary conversation, unless you aspire to gain distinction by mere rudeness; for they have in fact no merit, and are only uncivil. “I do not know,” “I cannot tell,” are the most harmless words possible, and may yet be rendered very offensive by the tone and manner in which they are pronounced.

People default to advocacy.

Via Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works:

In any conversation, organizational or otherwise, people tend to overuse one particular rhetorical tool at the expense of all the others. People’s default mode of communication tends to be advocacy— argumentation in favor or their own conclusions and theories, statements about the truth of their own point of view.

It’s better to foster assertive inquiry.

“I have a view worth hearing, but I may be missing something.” It sounds simple, but this stance has a dramatic effect on group behavior if everyone in the room holds it. Individuals try to explain their own thinking— because they do have a view worth hearing. So, they advocate as clearly as possible for their own perspective. But because they remain open to the possibility that they may be missing something, two very important things happen. One, they advocate their view as a possibility, not as the single right answer. Two, they listen carefully and ask questions about alternative views. Why? Because, if they might be missing something, the best way to explore that possibility is to understand not what others see, but what they do not.

We wanted to open dialogue and increase understanding through a balance of advocacy and inquiry. This approach includes three key tools: (1) advocating your own position and then inviting responses (e.g., “This is how I see the situation, and why; to what extent do you see it differently?”); (2) paraphrasing what you believe to be the other person’s view and inquiring as to the validity of your understanding (e.g., “It sounds to me like your argument is this; to what extent does that capture your argument accurately?”); and (3) explaining a gap in your understanding of the other person’s views, and asking for more information (e.g., “It sounds like you think this acquisition is a bad idea. I’m not sure I understand how you got there. Could you tell me more?”).

Yes, and …

Via The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success:

Anyone who has ever taken a class in improvisation has learned the “yes, and…” technique. Ever wonder what keeps a great improv troupe from falling silent? It’s simple. No one is allowed to say no. Whatever is said, the other actors are forced to accept it and build upon it. This conversational style pays immediate dividends. Instead of creating blocks, or, “stops” to the chatter, it allows group discussions to build on each other. Talking takes on a spirit that floats higher and higher, as opposed to the use of what some called “conversation stoppers” thrown in by negative nellies. These sound like, “I don’t believe that,” or, “what’s your proof for that?” or, often, simply, “No.” Those stuck in a deconstructivist frame of mind often can’t help but bring down conversations. You know them because they often leave people feeling like a balloon has just been popped and its remnants have crashed to the floor. Popping other people’s balloons is a sure-fire way to discourage them from telling you how they really feel; and a terrible way to break out of plateaus caused by becoming stuck in a feedback-proof cocoon.

Where we learn the art of conversation.

Via Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation:

The shared meal is no small thing. It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending. What have been called the “cultural contradictions of capitalism” — its tendency to undermine the stabilizing social forms it depends on — are on vivid display today at the modern American dinner table, along with all the brightly colored packages that the food industry has managed to plant there.

Cicero and the rules of conversation.

In 44BC Cicero wrote the following rules, distilled for us by The Economist:

The rules we learn from Cicero are these: speak clearly; speak easily but not too much, especially when others want their turn; do not interrupt; be courteous; deal seriously with serious matters and gracefully with lighter ones; never criticise people behind their backs; stick to subjects of general interest; do not talk about yourself; and, above all, never lose your temper.

Probably only two cardinal rules were lacking from Cicero’s list: remember people’s names, and be a good listener.

Six Rules.

via the Financial Times:

1. Be curious about others; 2. Take off your mask; 3. Empathise with others; 4. Get behind the job title; 5. Use adventurous openings; 6. Have courage.

Compliment this with ten techniques for building quick rapport with anyone.

5 Things Cicero Can Teach You About Winning An Election

In 64 B.C Marcus Tullius Cicero was running for the post of Roman consul.

Cicero, a political outsider, was a brilliant man and gifted speaker with a burning desire to gain the highest office in the ancient republic.

As the campaign approached, his brother Quintus wrote to him offering some advice on how to win the election that would make Machiavelli proud.

“My dear Marcus,” he wrote, “you have many wonderful qualities, but those you lack you must acquire, and it must appear as if you were born with them.”

Quintus knew that the odds were against his brother: “To speak bluntly, since you are seeking the most important position in Rome and since you have so many potential enemies, you can’t afford to make any mistakes. You must conduct a flawless campaign with the greatest thoughtfulness, industry and care.”

In a short pamphlet, Quintus laid out an election plan for Marcus that still rings as true today as it did 2,000 years ago.

Here is a sampling of his political wisdom:

1. Promise everything to everyone. Quintus says that the best way to win voters is to tell them what they want to hear: “Remember Cotta, that master of campaigning, who said he would promise anything, unless some clear obligation prevented him, but only lived up to those promises that benefited him.” As Quintus says, people will be much angrier with a candidate who refuses to make promises than with one who, once elected, breaks them.

2. Call in all favors. If you have helped friends or associates in the past, let them know that it’s payback time: “Make it clear to each one under obligation to you exactly what you expect from him. Remind them all that you have never asked anything of them before, but now is the time to make good on what they owe you.” If someone isn’t in your debt, remind him that if elected, you can reward him later, but only if he backs you now.

3. Know your opponent’s weaknesses—and exploit them. Quintus practically invented opposition research: “Consider Antonius, who once had his property confiscated for debt…then after he was elected as praetor, he disgraced himself by going down to the market and buying a girl to be his sex slave.” A winning candidate calmly assesses his opponent and then focuses relentlessly on his weaknesses, all the while trying to distract voters from his strengths.

4. Flatter voters shamelessly. Quintus warns his brother: “You can be rather stiff at times. You desperately need to learn the art of flattery—a disgraceful thing in normal life but essential when you are running for office.” A candidate must make voters believe that he thinks they’re important. Shake their hands, look them in the eye, listen to their problems.

5. Give people hope. Even the most cynical voter wants to believe in someone: “The most important part of your campaign is to bring hope to people and a feeling of goodwill toward you.” Voters who are persuaded that you can make their world better will be your most devoted followers—at least until after the election, when you will inevitably let them down.

Still curious? Read the original (translated) “On running for the Consulship” and also How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politician.

Source: WSJ