Internationalist: On your best behavior Part I

 How we've lost the art of social chat

By Philip Duff

Back in my day….

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I promise this won’t be another bullshit piece about how we should all throw away our mobile phones and go back to the days when an evening’s entertainment consisted of standing around the piano singing vaudeville songs before a spot of light incest and some pipe smoking.

Frankly, most things in the past were shit. We are looking with the rose-tinted spectacles supplied us by a combination of hindsight and ignorance, gulping down a nostalgia curry spiced with false memory and served with great steaming piles of fluffy whimsy.

Internet, email, Facebook, anaesthetics, contraception and online check-in are fantastic. Now is a pretty good time to be living.

But many people these days (brought up on TV dinners in front of the TV and due to the obsessive, ADHD-baiting nature of their 360º 24/7 checking of networks and email) have developed social skills deficiencies that would raise eyebrows on the foredeck of a tramp steamer.

You know the people I am talking about. They’re asshats and they pile into your bar adnausuam and act in such a socially akward manner that it makes you, the bartender, feel uncomfortable. They think it’s entirely OK to check Facebook and emails constantly when at dinner or ordering drinks. They stop conversations mid sentance so they can Twitter any witty bon mots, or upload stupid fucking hazy Twitpics of people who are a perfect waste of carbon gurning for the camphone.

I know this chap, member of a billionaire distilling family, who never looks anyone in the eye when he is talking to them – he probably has no idea how insulting it is.” Philip Duff

They wear black suits with brown shoes, the foul-hearted curs. What makes this worst of all is that these semi-autistic tics affect your business effectiveness. I recently went on a day out with a sales rep who, in one bar, quickly introduced me to the Bar Manager – whom I didn’t know –  then whipped out a laptop and started ‘doing emails’ while the Bar Manager and I looked at each other uneasily, feeling like children forced into a playdate. This sort of behaviour will not do.

From years of focibly observing this growing trend of peoples’ developing inability to function effectivly in a social scene, it came to pass that my seminar ‘How To Behave In A Bar’ shall be featured at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic this year. The presenting duties will be shared between yours truly and Angus Winchester whose behaviour is beyond reproach (except when someone accidentally feeds him Bourbon and he undergoes an unsettling transformation from juniper-soaked mogwai to raving Gremlin)

Even if you swap your Blackberry or iPhone for a John’s Phone (and you should) you have only reduced your ass-hattery to manageable levels. What are the topics one could study in order to learn how to work a room? Own a conversation? Bring others around to your point of view by sheer force of personality and charm? Scott Adams, the Dilbert dude, made a pretty good list not long ago:

Sales methods, Psychology of persuasion, How to organize information for influence, Propaganda, Hypnosis,Cults, Voice coaching – to name a few.

These are all eminently study-able. What’s that, I hear you say? Creepy? Get over yourself. Everyone who visits a gym, wears anything more elaborate than a jute sack or smiles at people he or she would like to bump nasties with is already engaged in persuasion. This is just upping your game.

How to behave in public: Social Fluidity 101

If you invite your friends or colleagues or clients, or choose the venue, you (not the venue’s staff) are the host. It is your responsibility to make sure everyone in the group is happy, relaxed, that they get their food (and like it) and are enjoying themselves. You must keep the conversation going, and involve everyone in it.

If you are unsure about being a host, then do your homework: visit the venue, get to know the staff, and sit down to work out who you’ll invite and what you’ll say to keep things going. The art of hosting is being forgotten every day. Master it, and you will need bodyguards to prevent you being elected President of the World. More info needed? Read Emily Post.

Internet, email, Facebook, anaesthetics, contraception and online check-in are fantastic. Now is a pretty good time to be living.” Philip Duff

Give compliments – people love to be complimented. Even if it’s utter horse manure (and there’s a high chance of it) no-one can resist being influenced by a compliment. The more thoughtful and insightful a compliment, the more effective it will be. It will make quiet people talk, and make loudmouths talk more graciously.

This is when you should shut up: when you have got everyone talking. Everyone would rather talk than listen, it relaxes them to be able to talk away and giving them the gift of your listenership makes them want to reciprocate.

And for godsake, give people your atention. There is a chap I know, member of a billionaire distilling family, who never looks anyone in the eye when he is talking to them. His eyes are constantly darting around the room. Now, I’m a wanker, so I get this a lot, but I observed him in several settings and he’s always the same: with people more important than me, less important, gorgeous girls, handsome guys…he probably has no idea how insulting it is.

It may be a nervous reaction – but it is inexcusable. If you find yourself cornered by a bore, give that bore 100% of your attention. It’s a contest. Make him or her think you’re the most awesome person ever. If you really need to break away, suggest going to the bar together to get a drink. But never, ever give anyone even a single doubt that they are the focus of every atom of your attention.

That includes pulling out your phone (unless it’s ringing – texts and emails don’t count) and being Mr. Darty Eyes.

To be Continued…

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