I’m pretty sure that Leil Lowndes is a raving bitch. And to be exact, the kind of shallow, schmoozing, perpetually-winking bitch behind whose over-earnest smile lurks a low grade psychopath. I had no idea about this when I bought her audiobook How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Business Relationships, but it came across within hearing her speak the first few sentences of her book. Still, I was interested in the topic since I do have trouble talking to people in “networking” situations, so I steeled myself and listened.

Her passages obey the following formula.

  1. Enumeration
  2. Introduction to the “trick” or “technique
  3. The Clever Name of the trick
  4. The meat of the trick, which can be any of the following:
    1. A hyperbolic and clearly fabricated “real life” anecdote that exaggerates a problem and solution, kind of like a television ad.
    2. Citation of a vaguely cited study that shows X behavior results in Y effect. Since Y effect is good, adopt X behavior.
    3. Tautology: Big winners do X. Why? Because they’re big winners!
    4. Simple grandmother-with-a-switchblade explanation and advice.
  5. Repeated enumeration
  6. Repeated Clever Name
  7. Summary of the “trick”

All of it is peppered with clichés, awkward word choices (who can seriously use the term “boner” for “mistake” anymore?) and distracting, pointless alliteration. Perhaps this format is meant to facilitate toilet reading; allowing the reader to pick up the book at any time and read as much as he or she has endurance. But really what it does is illustrate that Lowndes has no ethical basis or framework on which these tricks are founded. They’re simply things that get the results she wants and to her, that’s all that matters.

In case you think I’m being overly harsh on the poor dear, here is one exemplary quote straight from the text that illustrates my point:

    “Here’s how to come off as 100% credible to everyone!!!”

I’m not being harsh.

The book would be easy to dismiss if the advice was actually bad. But the crazy thing is, it’s not. Most of it is pretty good if it was approached from an ethical basis. So, as a public service to those people who are interested in her topic, I offer the following addendum to the book, in which I try to provide the ethical approaches from which you can adopt some of her techniques and still sleep at night.

Ethical Appendix to How to Talk to Anyone

Entries in this Appendix obey the following format:

The Ethic

    Leil’s trick number, for cross referencing. Leil’s Clever Name (An optional explanation of her Clever Name): The ethical interpretation of her trick.

Observant readers may note the discrepancy between the book’s title, which indicates 92 tricks, and the actual numbers seen here, 62. Honestly, I don’t know what happened to the other 30. Perhaps they were omitted from the audiobook. I’m not going to give her any more money than I already have, so I won’t be buying the book to find out. If you know, /msg me.

Be deliberate and careful in your judgments

    1. Slow smile (Force smiles to occur across a few seconds rather than instantly): Jumping too quickly to comfortable emotional states reveals a feel-first-then-justify approach rather than a reasoned approach.

    48. Oh wow it’s you! : If you answer the phone with a smile already on your face—before knowing the caller or her intent—your audible smile will seem insincere, ambient. Wait until you know the caller or her intention before revealing your emotional response.

Visualize Success

    9. Watch the scene before you make the scene: Before conversation-intensive situations, visualize yourself easily and enjoyably talking to people.

    50. Ten second audition: Don’t leave sloppy voice mail messages. Rehearse your voice mail a few times before leaving it for clarity. Repeat telephone numbers twice in case the listener had to get a pen while you read it the first time.

Give your full attention to the people with whom you are speaking

    5. The big baby pivot: Let people know they matter by turning your body toward them when you greet them.

    7. Limit the fidget: Avoid fidgeting. It sends messages of anxiety and a desire for the present discussion to end.

    44. Knee-Jerk “Wow”: People are overly sensitive immediately after a performance. Keep comments as positive as possible and save the suggestions for improvement until later, when you are asked and when the emotionally sensitive moment has passed.

    61. Lead the listeners: When in an audience, give your full attention to the speaker. Let them know how you’re feeling about what they’re saying with subtle facial expressions. Don’t be afraid to applaud first if that’s how you feel.

Find what’s interesting in people and make an effort to get to know them

    3. Epoxy eyes (Stare not at the speaker but at the person on whom you wish to make an impression): If you want to know how a person feels about a topic or person, observe them when encountering the same.

    13. Whozzit?: If you’re looking for fruitful conversation topics with someone, ask someone who already knows them, such as the host at a party or a mutual friend.

    14. Eavesdrop in: Stand near an ongoing conversation to understand what interests the participants. If you have something to add, gently include yourself with the introduction, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help overhearing…”

    18. Be a word detective: Listen for small words in other people’s conversation that indicate their interest. Don’t be afraid during a pause to ask about the topic.

    19. Swiveling spotlight: Encourage people to talk about themselves. Prompt them for further details and stories. Ask questions.

    21. Encore: Remember other people’s interesting stories and prompt for a retelling when appropriate.

    42. The killer compliment: Take moments out to identify specific, credible, positive aspects of a colleague. Deliver it to them directly and in private. Limit this to once every six months or it may appear insincere.

    43. Little strokes: Add to the positive mood by freely delivering short, quick kudos to the deserving in casual ways.

Make yourself easy to talk to

    12. Whatsit: Wear something about which you can share stories with people who ask about it. The more unsual the more likely you are to be asked. The better stories it has the more conversation it will engender. [Corollary: Look for interesting conversation starters other people are wearing and don't be afraid to inquire about them.]

    15. Never the naked city: When asked where you’re from, don’t simply provide the name of the location. Have prepared some stories or facts that engender further discussion.

    16. Never the naked job: Similarly, when asked what you do, don’t simply provide your job title. Provide some details or broader context that engender further discussion.

    20. Parroting (Repeat key words from partner’s speech as a question): Assure your partner that you are listening by occasionally restating what they are saying, often in the form of the question.

    22. Accentuate the positive: Self-denigration is only endearing from a person of perceived higher status. Withhold confessions and self-denigrations when meeting new people.

    23. The latest news, don’t leave home without it: Prior to a party, catch up on recent events so you can keep your part of the conversation going if such topics come up.

    25. Sound even smarter (by memorizing smart sounding words): Commit time and effort to eloquence. Avoid clichés, speak in active voice and with good enunciation, notice the patterns of excellent speakers you know, and actively explore language.

    26. Comm-YOU-nication (Pander to people’s self interest): Understand what interests others, and frame requests in terms that are meaningful to them.

    28. Jawsmiths jives [sic]: Employ poetics in your language to make it more memorable.

    29. The receiver’s ball: Empathize with the recipient when delivering bad news.

    34. Be a copy class: Be aware of the mannerisms and conventions of different cultures and contexts. If you are too far out of form, your intentions may be misread.

    36. Echoing: [This is no different than Parroting, above.]

    36. Potent imaging: When avoiding clichés, try to use metaphors and similes that will be evocative and meaningful for your listener.

    37. Employ empathizers: Replace filler sounds (“umm”) with full sentence restatements and affirmations.

    39. Instant history (Find any shared moment and reference it as if it was a personal inside joke): Use events in the current context to build familiarity. It's something that you definitely have in common. But be careful—your take on it may not be the same as theirs.

    53. Beware the buried WIIFM? (What’s in it for me?): Be forthright about what each party hopes to gain from proposals. An agenda revealed only later is deception.

    54. Let them savor the favor: Acting too quickly on favors from friends can give the impression of desperation. If you’re not actually desperate, wait a bit. If you are desperate, express this when you ask for it.

    55. Tit for…wait…wait…Tat: Do not mention reciprocation when granting a favor. Doing so presumes greed and insensitivity of the recipient. Also, wait an appropriate length of time before asking for reciprocation yourself.

    56. Parties are for Pratter: Show restraint at business parties. Certainly keep the conversation light and away from business issues.

    57. Safe havens: Do not take advantage of chance encounters to bring up business confrontations. Leaving them at work is professional and will not force people to try and avoid you in public.

Well-round yourself

    31. Scramble therapy: Once per month do something new that doesn’t fit your usual interests. This gives you new perspectives and more likely common ground with new people.

    33. Read their rags: If you know of likely topics in advance of a conversation, seek out publications that tailor to that topic to understand what’s of current interest. Ask more knowledgeable people their opinions. Be honest about the source of your inquiry.

Help others with their end of the conversation

    24. “What do you do?” NOT: This question implies a silent judgment on a person’s job. Instead, ask “How do you spend most of your time?” This will also encourage them to reply with stories and details rather than a title.

    49. What color is your time? (Use traffic light keywords): When you call someone, always ask if it is a good time to talk. [I know, they picked up the phone, but it might be to see if you have an emergency.]

    51. I hear your other line: While on the phone, be aware of background noises. Ask the listener if she needs to attend urgent ones such as a phone ringing or a person speaking.

    52. Lend a helping tongue: When someone else is interrupted, let the interruption play out, and then prompt the speaker to continue. This lets them save face from having to do it themselves.

    59. Leave an escape hatch: When you catch cheaters and liars, don’t make an enemy by outing them publicly. Give them a way out of the immediate situation, and then deal with it formally later.

Be appreciative

    30. Never the naked thank you: Be specific when thanking someone, e.g. “Thank you for your help with the presentation this morning.”

    58. My goof your gain: When you accidentally cause harm, make reparations tenfold and the event will be a positive memory for both.

    60. Buttercups for their boss: When you wish to reward excellent service, a letter to their boss is especially effective.

Adopt good posture

    4. Hang by your teeth (As a trapeze artist): Visualize that your body is being held up by a rope affixed to the top of your head. This corrects weak posture and gives your presence more confidence.

Respect the phone’s limitations

    46. Talking gestures: Slightly exaggerate your expressions and include lots of affirmation fillers, e.g. “mm-hmm,” ”yeah”, on the phone to compensate for the absence of visual feedback.

    47. Name shower: use a person’s name more frequently on the phone than you would in person.

If I remember my Dante correctly, deceivers end up in the the eighth level of his Hell. Try as I might, I just couldn’t find an ethical way to approach some of Lowndes’ advice. But for the sake of completeness, I include these items below. If you can think of an ethical take on any of these, /msg me and we'll talk it through.

    2. Sticky eyes (Hold eye contact a little too long on women and, if you’re a woman, on men.): This works, but is pure manipulation.

    6. Hello old friend (Pretend every person is an old friend)

    8. Horse sense (Tailor your speech in real time to please others)

    10. Make a mood match (Mimic your conversational partner’s mood) [Empathetic people will do this naturally. If you’re not that empathetic, why fake it?]

    11. Prosaic with passion (Anything is good introductory, as long as it sounds passionate)

    27. Exclusive smiles (Practice your smiles, and dole them out hierarchically)

    32. Learn a little goddledygoop [sic] (Adopt key vocabulary words to fool your partner into thinking you know more than you do)

    38. Premature “We” (The closest of friends use the first person plural when speaking to others. Use it earlier than you think, even immediately, to imply an instant familiarity with new people.)

    40. Grapevine Glory (Don’t pander directly. Rather, pander to a loose-lipped colleague of the target who is sure to pass it along.)

    41. Accidental adulation (Drop compliments indirectly, as parenthetical asides, as if you didn’t realize you were giving them.)

    45. Boomerang (Thank people for thanking you.)

    62. The great scorecard in the sky (Keep close tally of favors and social status as if it was a score. Give deference to those ahead of you, and lord it over those behind.)

So there you have it. If you plan to borrow Lowdnes’ book from your local library, (rather than supporting her brand of manipulation with a direct purchase) do me a favor and slip this in the back before you return it. We have enough of hers in the world as it is.

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