You are probably a sensitive intellectual. Maybe you're introverted. You like to have quiet, thoughtful conversations. You dislike what you see as superficial topics, and you yearn for deep, meaningful exchanges.
Am I going to help you find what you're looking for? No, of course not.
This off-roading package is not about giving you what you want. It's about giving you tools to cope with situations when you are not getting what you want, and you're not going to get what you want. With these tools, you'll be able to navigate such situations gracefully.
If not the life of the party, at least you won't be the butt of every joke.
First, you have to recognize that you're in an off-roading situation. Within the first few minutes of a conversation or a party, ask yourself: Am I excited about this interaction, or am I looking for a way out? Do I want to get to know these people better, or am I dreading having to spend any more time with them?
If you're excited and interested, no need to put on your off-road tires. Roll down the top and cruise along the highway. (But keep the off-road tires in the trunk, because you never know when someone you thought was trustworthy may veer off the conversational pavement. You'll need a snappy reply.)
Major clues that you may need to put on your off-road tires include: teasing (ranging from gentle mockery to straight-up insults), interrupting (which includes getting bored with the subject and abruptly changing it), and inane superficial discussions of pop culture (particularly TV shows you've never seen and don't care about).
Here are three rules for conversational off-roading, which I've just made up:
1. Go with it.
In improvisational theater, they tell you to say "yes, and" to everything. If someone says, "Oh my, it's raining so hard!" you can't reply, "No, it isn't raining." You should say, "Yes, and our pet fairies will drown if we can't get them inside immediately!"
In an off-road conversation, this technique is primarily useful as a response to all kinds of teasing, mockery, and insults. It allows you to be part of the joke rather than its object, and sometimes you can even turn it around to make the original joker look ridiculous.
PC = Paved Conversationalist
OC = Off-road Conversationalist
PCO = Paved Conversationalist with Off-roading tires
PC: "I don't really like Swiss cheese."OC: "Do you hate other Swiss things, like knives and chocolate?"
PC: "Um. No. I just don't like Swiss cheese."
This kind of response is usually delivered by the Paved Conversationalist in a confused, off-balance, or offended tone. It opens the speaker up to further teasing. Here's a better answer:
OC: "Do you hate other Swiss things, like knives and chocolate?"PCO: "Yeah, and I really hate Swiss people."
This is so outrageous that the whole table laughs. The person who was being teased has taken charge of the joke and exposed it for the absurdity it was.
The go with it principle can also be applied to interruption and abrupt subject shifts. As soon as your story is interrupted, or the topic of conversation is highjacked, you must let go of the old story or subject.
Even if someone asks you a question, and you are in the middle of answering it when he decides he's bored and changes the subject, immediately drop your explanation and embrace the new topic of conversation. If he wasn't interested the first time, he definitely won't be interested if you try for a second round.
2. Don't state opinions or positions about anything you're emotionally invested in.
Feel free to state opinions, but only about trivial topics, and when you do state them, express them as absolute truths rather than opinions. It's funnier that way.
For example, suppose everyone is talking about Harry Potter, and you think Harry Potter is stupid. This is how you should express that opinion: "I guess Harry Potter is okay, for lesser intellects."
You've just insulted everyone at the table, but conversational off-roaders love that. They may throw barbs back, but as long as you're prepared, the discussion can devolve to witty repartee without anyone's feelings actually being hurt.
What you should never do is express a genuine opinion about something that will engage you emotionally. It's like that old rule about not discussing religion and politics at the dinner table, but the critical topics are different for different people.
For example, if you're a vegetarian and you feel strongly about it, don't let conversational off-roaders know. They'll start saying things like this just to get your goat:
OC: "I like to eat chicken, because frankly I hate chickens and want them to die."PC: "That's terrible! How can you possibly hate chickens?"
OC: "I was just joking. You always take everything so seriously!"
This changes the topic to your personal failings and gives everyone an opportunity to laugh at you. A better response is:
OC: "I like to eat chicken, because frankly I hate chickens and want them to die."PCO: "I know, I feel just the same way about carrots! They're despicable."
This brings us to the third and final rule:
3. Tell lies.
But don't think of it as telling lies. Think of it as acting. This technique can be used defensively, as in the above examples, to deflect questions or teasing. It can also be used offensively, if you feel ready to take the lead in the off-road conversation. You will be surprised how much off-road conversationalists like to be told lies.
OC1: "Did you see that commercial with the guy running away from the alligator?"OC2: "Oh yeah, that was so funny!"
PCO: "Did you know that doctors actually did an experiment once by feeding different parts of the human body to alligators? Apparently hands are the most delicious part."
This is a great lie, because you don't need to have any actual knowledge of the commercial, you're just riffing off the mention of alligators. You've derailed the conversation, which is appropriate off-roading technique, and as an added bonus, if anyone actually believed you, you can laugh at them.
If someone says, "Really?" you can roll your eyes, shake your head and say "No" with a suppressed laugh in your voice, as if to say "Are you really such a fool as to believe that?" Everyone else will laugh at that person.
Even if no one believed you, they'll still think you told a good joke. They may go back to discussing the commercial, or someone else may remember (or fabricate) something else about medical research, and take the conversation in that direction. It doesn't really matter. You've contributed!
There you have them, the three rules of conversational off-roading (which I've just made up). But most cars don't run well on just three tires, so here is a fourth rule--a word of warning.
4. Keep your soul.
It's possible to get very good at conversational off-roading. Dangerously good. Remember, an ATV has its place, but once you've learned how to drive it, don't abandon your street car. You still love deep and meaningful conversations. Don't lose your ability to have them.