The 3 Words That Kill or Save Every Good Story
If you want to become a better writer, this is an easy way to subtly but powerfully shift your train of thinking.
Every time you have a conversation with someone, you’re willingness to listen and absorb what they are saying falls somewhere on a spectrum from “I’m loving this conversation” to “I can’t wait to get away from this person.”
How you navigate that spectrum will inform how you listen, and as a result, how you grow as a writer and collector of interesting things.
When you find yourself in the middle of a conversation with someone, there are two clear phrases that can propel you towards either end of the engagement spectrum.
If you want to kill a conversation, all you need to do is keep saying, “Yes, of course.”
If you want to propel a conversation and continue to explore the nuances of what is being said, all you need to do is keep saying, “Tell me more.”
It’s that simple.
Malcolm Gladwell talks in his Masterclass about how the “yes, of course,” makes people unwilling to tell others interesting things because they don’t get the reward of sparking curiosity. He points out that the reason we tell people funny interesting stories is we want the reward of them having that look on their face and being surprised and being pleased.
It’s pride that often leads us to say “yes, of course.” Malcolm goes on to say:
“The easiest thing is for you to say, for you to tell me a story and for me to say, “Well I knew 75% of that. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to take credit for knowing all of it.” Right? That’s your ego speaking. “Oh they had this little bit of an insight that I didn’t have, but I’m going to fake it and say “Oh I knew that.”
You have to actively work to kill that impulse whenever you are listening to someone talk or teach. Take an honest examination of what you do know and realize that if someone can add to your knowledge even 2% more, you’re gaining a valuable perspective that you didn’t have previously.
That’s why the phrase “tell me more,” is so potent. It’s soaked in humility and intrigue. It’s the key that unlocks someone to keep sharing. It’s exactly what a great writer should become well-acquainted with as he or she looks to be consistently and pleasantly surprised by the fascinating things that are truly all around us.