Reading Notes: The Power of Conversation Chap2

Mainly book excerpts + some personal insights
Original book "The Power of Conversation"
Author (US) Alan Garner
Translator Lin Hua
ISBN: 9787508422749

Expressing Honest Praise#

Giving honest praise not only encourages others to continue doing things the way you like, but also makes them feel good about you.

No one will refuse praise, and praise always brings happiness.

An old man and his wife lived together for 21 years without saying a word. One day during breakfast, he suddenly broke the silence: "Darling, sometimes I feel like I have to tell you how much I love you."

  • Excerpt from "A Letter to Karen"

(He's so good at it)

When people around us make us happy, most people take it for granted and think it should be that way. Few mothers praise their children for cooperating during meals or playtime; few neighbors thank each other for the quietness at night.

We only notice others when they do something that goes against our wishes - and we notice it very quickly! Then we criticize and explain in detail why their behavior is "bad" or "wrong," and why they should do as we say. Some people even scream, threaten, or even fight, just to make the other person obey.

People tend to repeat encouraged behavior#

According to the theory of behavioral cognition, others' attitudes towards you largely depend on your response. The frequency of behaviors that are praised by you will increase, while behaviors that are ignored by you will gradually decrease.

As mentioned earlier, people often overlook the things they like and punish the things they dislike. But doing so does not have significant benefits.

Of course, we hope that the behavior that is punished can be avoided, but sometimes the reality is not like this. For example, children find that swearing can cause a big reaction from adults, and they may find it enjoyable.

Even if they are punished, they are willing to do so because it is enough to attract the attention of adults. Punishment is always better than being ignored, so this actually forms a reverse "encouragement" in practice.

Behavior -> Encouragement -> Increase
Behavior -> Ignoring -> Decrease

One thing to note is that punishing behaviors we don't like may not be a good choice, but completely ignoring them is not the solution either. We should combine the techniques discussed later to "transform criticism into praise".

If you encourage or ignore different behaviors based on people's actions, they will be more willing to choose the behavior that is encouraged.


I have a student named Tim in Oregon who often talks to me during breaks. After a brief chat, he always finds reasons to complain about the rain and the cold, his ex-wife's attitude towards him, and the boredom and thanklessness of his work.

I knew Tim was emotionally troubled, so I decided to change my behavior when I was with him and only respond to his occasional positive and optimistic conversations. When he mentioned a neighbor helping him fix his car, or a well-known actor coming to perform, or meeting an old friend, I would nod and smile, asking open-ended questions. And when he behaved negatively, I would ignore him. I would look up at passersby or start eating my sandwich.

After a while, his behavior completely changed. When I was with him, he was always optimistic and gentle. Every time I saw him, he would greet me proactively, with a smile on his face, and tell me some good news. Before I returned to California, he quietly told me that the time we spent together was often the best part of his day. But when he was with others, he was still irritable and pessimistic.

Encouraging behaviors you like is more effective than punishing behaviors you dislike.

Giving honest positive responses [1] not only encourages others to continue doing things the way you like, [2] but also makes them feel good about you. Psychologist William James believes, "The deepest instinct in human nature is the desire to be appreciated." If you are one of the few people in someone's life who can satisfy this "desire to be appreciated" (likely the only one), then you are likely to be cherished as an intimate friend.

Praising others makes them feel that you are sympathetic, understanding, and even charismatic. When others find that you genuinely care about them, they are likely to open up to you.

Establishing positive emotional communication (virtuous cycle)

The final reason for positive responses is that they [3] help create an open and positive atmosphere, in which the people around you can gradually grow and realize their potential as individuals.

[Mistaken belief]: Many people believe that if they praise their children, friends, colleagues, or spouses, they will become lazy and stop striving for more.

A large amount of psychological evidence shows that this "negative" strategy is not only ineffective, but often harmful. People who receive negative responses not only do not continue to strive for praise, but become very cautious, self-conscious, and feel inadequate.

They become cautious, hesitant, and walk on thin ice, thus trapping themselves.

How to effectively express direct praise#

Directly tell others which aspects of their behavior, appearance, and qualities you appreciate
Behavior: "You are a good teacher."
Appearance: "Your hair looks beautiful."
Attire: "I really like your shoes."

These praises can be improved in two ways
[1] Be more specific. If you tell others your preferences without reservation and make them believe that your words only apply to them and not anyone else, your words will be more powerful and convincing.

Improvement 1:
Behavior: "I like how you personally coach everyone during our practice."
Appearance: "I think this new hairstyle makes your eyes look even more beautiful."
Attire: "Those brown loafers go well with your khaki pants."
(Avoid clichés and generalizations)

[2] Use the person's name. Since Plato and Socrates, most people have believed that their own name is the most pleasant sound in the world and will pay more attention to words that include their name. In addition, calling someone by their name can make them feel that your praise is specifically for them.

Improvement 2:
Behavior: "Alan, I like how you personally coach everyone during our practice."
Appearance: "Alan, I think this new hairstyle makes your eyes look even more beautiful."
Attire: "Alan, those brown loafers go well with your khaki pants."

How to help others accept our direct praise#

Similarly, you may find it difficult for many people to accept your direct praise. Out of modesty or lack of other ways to respond, they often reject your praise, which can make you feel frustrated and reduce your future praise.

For the above praise, the other person is likely to respond like this:
Behavior: "It's just what I should do."
Appearance: "I actually think the hairdresser cut it too short."
Attire: "You like these old shoes?"

No matter what the reason, there are things you can do to make your praise more effective and easier for others to accept: you can add a question after the praise. This way, when the other person hears your praise, they don't have to struggle to find a response, they just need to say thank you and then answer your question.

Finally, let's make the original praise more specific, add the person's name, and then add a question like this:

Improvement 3 (Final version):
Behavior: "Alan, I like how you personally coach everyone during our practice. Can you tell me what the most common mistake you observe is?"
Appearance: "Alan, I think this new hairstyle makes your eyes look even more beautiful. How did you come up with the idea to change your hairstyle?"
Attire: "Alan, those brown loafers go well with your khaki pants. How did you decide to buy this style?"

Transforming criticism into direct praise#

[1] There is no need to criticize others for their failures. You can praise their progress to some extent or their courage to try.

Example 1: "You didn't get a raise, that's too bad."
Improvement 1: "Patty, I think it's great that you were able to tell your boss about your request, regardless of whether you can get it or not. What do you think is the next step to make him accept your request?"

Example 2: "This story you wrote is so ridiculous."
Improvement 2: "Valerie, I like the part where Almond had to choose between marriage and death. The adjectives you used vividly presented that part to me. How did you come up with writing this scene?"

Example 3: "It took you five years to graduate? What mistakes did you make?"
Improvement 3: "You made it through, Ziani. Not everyone can do that. How are you going to celebrate?"

Example 4: "Oh, you failed again! You'll have to wait a few more months to catch up with me."
Improvement 4: "Congratulations, Ollie! You've made more progress than yesterday."

[2] When you don't like someone's behavior, you can try to encourage the aspects you like and completely ignore the aspects you don't like.

Example: "You left your shirt in the bathroom again. This is the 11th time this week I've told you."
Improvement: "Thanks for putting your socks in the basket, Laura. It really helped me. Tell me, what do you want for dinner? I'll make it for you."

[3] If there is no aspect of the other person's behavior worth praising, you can talk about the good aspects of others. Or, you can directly tell the other person your expectations, and sometimes even praise them before they do something.

See how Melinda changed the way her husband rubbed her back:
Before, when he rubbed too hard or rubbed the wrong place, I would try to endure it until I couldn't stand it anymore, and then angrily shout, "Stop!" He would freeze in place, very disappointed.
So I tried to be more specific, like "Rub a little lighter during our practice" or "Very good, now go down a bit, to the right... comfortable." Not only did I get satisfaction and happiness, but he also felt confident and natural because he could make me happy.

It is important to keep your verbal and non-verbal messages consistent.

Discussed later in the book

How to make your direct praise convincing#

Sincerity is the key, do not lie, tell the truth.

If the other person even doubts your sincerity once, it will be difficult for them to fully accept your praise. In addition, your insincerity will only mislead the other person and make the behavior you dislike more frequent.

Being honest and sincere is not enough, to make your praise effective and emotionally appealing, you must make the other person believe in your honesty and sincerity. Specifically, smiling and using the person's name can be very helpful.

[1] Start by praising each friend every few days, and then gradually increase the frequency. If you rarely say kind words to people, a simple praise will attract their attention.

[2] Be relatively cautious in your wording at the beginning. Extremely exaggerated praise will inevitably cause confusion. (Some studies suggest occasionally using the person's name when meeting someone new)

[3] When praising others, do not have any ulterior motives. If you praise a colleague for being intelligent and creative and then ask them to lend you $5, your praise will not be effective.

[4] Avoid praising excessively, and express different opinions on small matters that are not related to the overall situation. People who are full of praise are unlikely to gain complete trust from others.

"Jim, thank you for lending me the calculator. Although it's difficult to understand how to use it, once I figure it out, it will be much easier to do financial statements. Can you tell me what the label on this button means?"

[5] Do not reciprocate praise with praise. Such praise sounds like a perfunctory response, as if you are forced to say something nice in return.

"Your jacket looks nice."
"Your jacket looks nice too."

[6] It is good to compare the other person's behavior, appearance, or attire with others in moderation.

For example, "Annette, this is the second month your sales have been ranked first. What's your secret?"
"Tang, I think you have the best physique in the school. How did you do it?"

Other ways to praise#

[1] Third-person praise (the intention is not about the wine).

A can openly express praise for B to others (such as C/D/E/...). Such public praise can be even more convincing than private praise.

For example, in a situation where B can hear, "intentionally" say it to B
Another example, if C is B's friend, C is likely to relay your praise to B.

[2] Passing on praise
If Mr. A praises Miss B to you, as a friend of Miss B, you can relay Mr. A's praise to Miss B. Similarly, you can add a question after the praise.

[3] Indirect praise (expressing praise through actions)

Your words or actions convey a sense of praise, but it is not directly expressed

For example, when you ask a lady for her opinion, you are indirectly expressing that you value her judgment.

When you ask a gentleman for his name or address him by his name, you are indirectly implying that he is important to you.

Accepting praise positively#

When you give more praise to others, undoubtedly you will also receive more. If you want these positive interactions to continue, you have to make the person who praises you feel that this candid communication is casual. If you turn your head and reject their praise, or immediately change the topic, it will be difficult to achieve the desired effect.

On the other hand, if you look into their eyes and respond positively, they are likely to feel satisfied.

If they know the technique of praise and randomly add a question, all you need to do is smile, say thank you, and then answer. If they don't, you can smile, say thank you, and maybe tell them how you feel.

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