Never Met A Verb I Didn't Like

By Wayne Elise

Effective conversation is about capturing the imagination of other people.

Try this exercise. Close your eyes and imagine a banana. If other thoughts intrude, go back to the banana. It’s yellow. It grows in a tropical climate. It’s what your mom sliced up and droppled into your Rice Krispies. Just keep thinking about that banana. If other non-banana thoughts intrude, push them out and go back to your fruit.

5… 4… 3… 2… 1…

Okay, you can stop now. I apologize. This is an impossible exercise. With all due respect to Buddhist Monks, if you’re like me, your mind just refuses to hold a constant, unmoving, static, boring image in mind for very long before it starts to wander.

We crave movement and change.

Now let’s try a slightly different exercise. Imagine a banana. But this time, do something with it. Peel your banana. Walk your banana over to a vat of boiling chocolate and dip it. Pull it out and watch the steam rise off the chocolate as it cools and hardens over your banana. Put your nose close and sniff.

Now imagine taking a bite. Chew your banana and swallow the mash. Feel it make it’s way down to your stomach and quench your hunger. Smile in satisfaction.

Okay. Chances are you stayed with our banana story the entire time. Your mind didn’t wander much.

People naturally focus on movement. Like most predators, our eyes are forward facing. That's so we can use ‘binocular summation’ to detect the smallest movement ahead in the bush. We are geared to detect and pay attention to movement. If we want people to listen to our conversation we should strive to stick more action in them.

Comedians often talk about Jokes Per Minute - JPM. They always trying to pump up their JPM. We can create a similar metric and call it Verbs Per Minute - VPM.  This is a metric to help us judge the quality of our conversation and storytelling.

This week let's try to focus on increasing our VPM. Here are some suggestions to help enable that:

* Make a conscious effort. It's easy to forget to work on our conversation skills once we arrive at work and the day gets busy. Try tagging a reminder in your calendar: '4 O clock meeting with IT team. Yo, use more Verbs to inspire.' 

* Rework your ritual conversations. We all recognize and participate in ritual conversations daily: "How are you?" "Fine, how about yourself?" "Good." "Good weekend?" "Yes. You?" "Splendid."

 Few people spend much time thinking on making these conversations more interesting. But it's a good place to start because you can work up something more 'verby' ahead of time. 

"How are you?"

"If you were to measure it on a scale from one to ten, you can write me up as an eight. Thanks for asking."


"Welcome to Starbucks. What can I get started for you?"

"I'll have a chocolate latte please, and if you can sprinkle in some extra love that would probably make me smile."

* Put in more Reaction Shots too. AKA, talk in the same way a film director films a movie. There are only a few type of shots in movie making. After the director hits us up with a few shots to establish the setting, she sets about showing us a series of Action and Reactions Shots. 

These two type of shots help each other. An action shot (man drives his car off a cliff) gives rise to a reaction shot. The people standing on the edge of the cliff cry out or they smile or they just stare expressionless. The flavor of their reactions tell us the meaning of the action we just witnesses. When a movie editor gets the raw footage from a director his primary task is to match action and reaction shots. 

Often we forget the importance of saying how we (or other characters in our conversation) feel. Instead we speak in judgements. "Holland Park is great." Right. That may be true, but that's a judgement. A judgement is an opinion disguised as a fact. It doesn't carry the personality of an emotion which is individual. Better to say, "I love Holland Park." This then leads to the natural use of more action in our conversation. We can then show how we love it. "I like walking my dog Betsy at seven o clock in the morning and enjoy seeing all the Russian nannies struggling to juggle their Starbucks and prams."

Okay, hope you enjoy these ideas and putting more verbs in your conversation. If you want to know more just page through the posts here on the site or come to a Conversation Camp and learn from me in person. I'd love to help.

All the best,


Listening with your face

By Wayne Elise

Version en español de este articulo.

You might say I've been around the block. Erika calls me refurbished. In any case, I've learned a few truths about people in my time.

One of those truths is that we don't seduce people with our words. Rather we seduce them with our attention.

The behaviors we pay attention to tend to increase. And those we ignore tend to decrease. That's why listening is so important.

If you listen well enough you can become addicting in a similar way to how video games are addicting. I'm sure you've played a video game in some capacity. Think about the psychological workings at play. The player pushes their joystick to the right and their character opens a treasure chest on the screen. REWARD. They walk to a door and press a button. The door opens. REWARD. A interesting monster comes out for the player to fight. REWARD. They kill the monster. They get a REWARD. It's an addictive experience. People have literally died of thirst and hunger because they couldn't walk away from a video game.

You can be the video game. Listening with your face is a step in that direction. It's not just listening with your ears, nor is it parroting back what the other person says as in 'active listening'. Those ways are boring. People respond better to fast-paced, instantly, immersive interactions.

As you watch your conversational partner speak, notice that they move their head, lift their eyebrows, look down and away and back to you again, they talk with their hands, bite their lip - lots of movements, all sorts of movements. There are over 600 muscles in the human body and people don't keep them still while they talk.

As listeners we usually don't think about this. We just wait our turn to talk - maybe throw in a 'yeah' now and then. We miss the dance that's offered us.

The way the brain works, people connect cause and effect when two actions follow each other closely in time. If I bang my knee on the table and the portrait of your uncle Jesse falls off the wall, you'll connect the two events, "What the hell Wayne!" even though the two actions may have nothing to do with each other. Conversely, we tend to dismiss the causality of an event if the cause tends to be too far in the past. You will conveniently forget about the earthquake tremor a month ago that possibly loosened the wall fixtures.

This is what you can do. Watch people when they talk. They bob their head - you move your head in some way. They look away from you and then look back - you reward them with a smile or lift of your eyebrows. Follow their hands with your eyes when they express with them then come back to the other person's eyes. Move your eyes to their mouth when they bite their lip. These are rewards for expressions directed toward you.

These rewards don't necessarily have to match and mostly they don't. Mirroring is a silly concept after all. Your rewards just have to follow your partner's movements closely in time to create the feeling of causality.

This type of listening can create a strong feeling of connection. Be careful how you employ it. You may not want to connect that strongly in some situations of course.

Note: I find small movements best. They can be almost imperceptible and still work. The effectiveness comes out of the timing being immediate, not the the size of the reward.


By Wayne Elise

Version en español de este articulo.

A few days ago I was sitting behind a table at a sidewalk cafe talking to my friend Lael. She does the singer/songwriter thing. But she could easily be walking a catwalk. People describe her as stunning. But what I dig most about her is she's a loner - like everybody cool I know.

We were wrapping up our conversation. She was standing, leaning, eager to go meet up with her sorta boyfriend at the day job he holds grinding coffee beans and wearing hipster hats.

But then the topic of her creative endeavors held her there. She described writing music. "The lyrics have to make sense. The tone has to match the chords. It should rhyme and be interesting. And I have to be careful so I don't compromise the original inspiration. People think it's an easy job. And sometimes it is. Sometimes it just flows. But mostly it's just hard."

"I can only imagine," I said. "So many things to intertwine. No wonder musicians do drugs."

She laughed. "Anyway. How about you? What are you writing in that notebook?"

"I'm working on a short story."

"What's it about."

"It's based off my favorite book, the Hobbit. I take characters from that story - such as Gandalf The Wizard and put them in Echo Park."

"Sounds interesting. What's the…"

At that moment, as if conjured by a wizard, a strange guy appeared from my right. "Can I get a quick opinion about GMO?" he said.

GMO? Genetically modified organisms? I hadn't heard that opener before. Interesting twist. But his timing sucked.

Lael looked at me for guidance. She's no killer. For all her awesomeness, she can't slit a guy's throat.

"Come back in five minutes," I told the guy.

"Sure," he said. "No problem." He walked off, back the way he came.

"Thanks," she said to me.

"I doubt he'll come back. But if he does I'm going to tell him I just want things to be like they are in science fiction movies. Anyway, you were just leaving. We can talk later."

We said our goodbyes and she walked off to my left.

The opinion-opener guy never returned. Apparently he lost his interest in genetically modified organisms without a hot girl in the picture.

I opened my notebook and found my pen.

Later, two girls playing the five finger game tugged each other past my table. One turned and caught me staring. She scowled, pulled her hat down over her ears and turned to whisper in her girlfriend's ear.

Fuck. They thought I was staring because they're a lesbian couple. No. I was devouring them because they looked delicious. I may be a pervert but I'm no tourist. Alas there was nothing to do about it. I sighed, picked up my pen and tried to re-imagine Gandolf the wizard impressing the Echo Park crowd with his smoke rings.

Later, I took off my reading glasses and slid them back into their case. The world drifted back into focus. Cars were switching on their headlights. Morning doves were heading home and night owls were starting to peek out from their rafters.

My bike is a night time death machine. It's the color invisible. No lights or reflectors. My single front brake is symbolic. I don't wear a helmet. It was time to ride home before dark.

I collected my things and walked my bike to the corner. I like to have free space to mount the beast.

I spotted the opinion-opener guy. He was interviewing Bluebeard the local pirate on the sidewalk. He had a camera, tripod and television crew.

Fuck. I felt bad for judging the guy as being shallow and trying to hit on my friend. He was just doing his job. He was some sort of journalist, possibly Nordic.

I waited a few minutes for him to wrap up with Bluebeard and I walked over. "Do you still want opinions about GMO," I asked him. "I'd be glad to help."

He passed the microphone to a helper. "Thanks. But we got enough."

"Oh good. I'm off then. Enjoy your stay in our country."

"What? I'm American."

"Oh. My mistake. Sorry." I turned to walk away.

"There is one thing you could do," he called after me. "That girl you were with. Tell me, is she single? What's her name?"

I walked back and hit him with a karate chop to the carotid artery. The flow of blood to his brain stopped and he crumpled to the pavement.

Just kidding.

I just shook my head, mounted Silver Streak and peddled home.

On the way, I passed a four-car accident. Cops had closed off the streets to other cars but I weaved around the barrier.

I heard a guy holding a towel to his bloody forehead talking to a police officer. "That car's supposed to be turning if he's in that lane."

"Not necessarily," the cop said. "You can't presume that."

I continued to peddle up the hill.

"I texted you," Erika said when I walked into the house. "I was worried about you riding in the dark. I heard lots of sirens. I'm glad you're okay. How was hanging out with Lael?"

I leaned my bike against the living room wall. "Good. She liked the brownies you baked. At least, I thought so. Perhaps she's a secret agent and hates brownies. Maybe she takes out her false teeth and rips the rubber mask off her face and she's ugly. I have no idea."

Erika looked me as if I was the weirdest person in the world.

I squinted my eyes. "After dinner I'm challenging you to a battle of wits, Princess Bride style. We can use that Trader Joe's wine we bought."

"I didn't see the movie. What sort of battle of wits?"

"It's all about guessing the other person's intentions. It'll be fun. We just need to find some poison."

"Uh, okay."

We played and I lost. But luckily I've developed an immunity to Iocane Powder.