Social Techniques—The best way to achieve dominance in a coffee shop setting is to be able to talk knowledgeably about something the other people are interested in hearing. This is a transient kind of power because what people want to hear varies from one moment to the next. However, along with this variety people want to have some degree of consistency as to the next sentence to be spoken and it is necessary for the interjected thought to be a development of the previous ones. That new thought can be introduced by some other person but the new one must show relevance very quickly and there should be no preamble to the new direction of this new thought. The preamble is with the thoughts that went just before. It is difficult to link back to something that was said more than three sentences before without being perceived as a drag on the conversation. So to maintain relevancy you must be commenting on the sentence that was just spoken. To change subject altogether is very poor form and even a new thought a little tangential to the subject lowers one’s impact and one’s status. To consistently stay on subject is critical to being considered a serious player.
One way to maintain sustained interest is to have professional knowledge about something everyone is concerned with, such as—their health. This makes a powerful player automatically out of someone who has a quarter century of experience in a hospital emergency room. This gives that person near god like powers. There is an old saying, “Doctors think they are gods but Emergency Room doctors know they are.” However, even this player soon becomes tedious when talking too loud and too long about some physical problem no one at the table is currently inflicted with. These pundits tend to jump around to various diseases and maladies to maintain control. However, almost everyone has some curious medical problem to bring up so this medical player can usually get an hour of attention before burning out. When this finally occurs they generally depart, because being gods they must be in control.
The professional linguist can maintain a long attention span from an audience by continually bringing up an endless supply of unknown and peculiar things about languages. These idiosyncrasies of speech are fascinating when presented well but it is rather like a lepidopterist carrying on about the beauty of various butterflies. There can be an infinite variety of weirdness and beauty but an excess of these ideas soon cloys the mind even with an enthusiastic presenter of the details. They flag because they have little actual relevance to our daily lives. A near relative of the linguist is the presenter of word games, such as puns, limericks, well honed quips. These are lots of fun but they must function as asides because a steady diet of wordplay becomes a surfeit of honey and quite nauseating. When in this form of play these subject controllers must be brief.
Some people dominate with a sheer mass of specialized knowledge on a particular famous person and that person’s work. They move forward with a constant reference to Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Marx, Swedenborg, Hannah Arendt or even Conan Doyle and will get some leverage. But, too great a reference to some outsider or even a whole professional field will soon appear to be pedantic and once that attitude sets into a conversation the yawns are not far behind. It will usually get a speaker more mileage to develop an idea as unique to himself and prove it with logic and examples rather than back it up with an outside authority. Quoting authority is usually a useless activity unless it is a single simple obvious and well known assertion which hasn’t been mentioned. Quoting an authority is rather like quoting statistics, which if they don’t seem obvious in and of themselves, actually detract from the force of the presentation.
There are some people who know the facts about everything, be it cars, fishing rods, airplanes, spices, restaurants, anything physical etc. and can talk endlessly about them. If given the opportunity they will talk non-stop for hours about the various forms of woodwind development in Italy and the qualities of the Swedish spruce versus the Norwegian ones for getting a perfect B-flat. Well, that’s a stretch, maybe. But, not much.
Almost everyone is interested in music, so when someone is very knowledgeable about some particular form of music and the various people who practice that form they can get the floor for a remarkably long time. I am not one of the good listeners to these pundits however. I like music, if I can listen to a whole piece. I even enjoy the same piece performed consecutively by different artists. But, to listen to someone talk about music which I haven’t just listened to is about as boring as listening to baseball batting statistics of a minor league Japanese team.
The techniques discussed so far today are about specialized knowledge possessed by one person just beyond the edge of the listeners. It works but it isn’t really controlling a conversation — it is participating in a conversation with over zealous detail.