I have received consistent feedback over the years that having conversations with me can be particularly obnoxious, as I am not an overwhelmingly open person. In fact, entire conversations can pass without me having offered a single meaningful contribution to the dialogue. It’s honestly become something of a self-imposed challenge to get in and out of a social interaction while sharing the least amount of personal content possible. At times this can even turn to negative contribution should I intentionally mislead people – *actually, that sounds a bit too harsh, let’s try again* – should I rearrange life events into a cleaner and more constructive narrative when someone is getting a bit too aggressive with their inquiries (It’s essentially my version of Ron Swanson calling people by the wrong name when he feels like they’re becoming a bit too chummy with him. “What? My family? Oh yes, well my brother’s recovering from a torn shoulder right now. Yes, a war injury. What’s that? Oh no, he’ll be fine. God and country and whatnot”.)
All of this has effectively earned me the distinction of being a notorious conversation deflector. What is a conversation deflector you ask? Well, consider it the discipline of verbal misdirection. It is the field of study focused on deftly taking any question posed by a fellow conversationalist, and craftily bouncing it right back at the asker in a manner that they mistake for an actual answer. It is a one-sided game of ping pong. It is a game of tennis played against a wall. Actually, it’s fairly akin to watching a magic trick: You know as you’re witnessing it that it’s not real. The magician knows it’s not real. Yet you still play along, let him demonstrate his little illusions, and magically find yourself smiling and committing to the act.
But in all honestly, deflection is fairly easy because at its core it’s based on the premise that people enjoy talking about themselves and are more likely to perceive a conversation favorably when they’ve had the opportunity to do so. It’s why first dates are always the easiest for me, and why literally every one after becomes infinitely more difficult (You can only deflect so many times until the girl you’re with begins to ultimately suspect you of being a serial killer or a conman. Or both. Usually both.)
However, what’s often overlooked within this personality defect is another core element – the practice of saying a lot while truly saying very little. You can probably read examples of this within this blog post alone. “Rearrange life events into a cleaner and more constructive narrative” could have just as easily been written as “I lie sometimes”. ” Effectively earned me the distinction of being a notorious conversation deflector” could have just been “People think I’m withdrawn.” But dammit, where’s the flare in that? Where’s the pizzazz? Where’s the intellectual stimulation? Who the hell wants to hear about things that *actually happened* in the manner in which they *actually occurred*? If I wanted that, I could read Fox Ne-…I could read MSNB-…I could read CN-…well, I could read a professionally well-vetted research paper. Life is hard, and its little problems and foibles become much easier when you’re simply able to talk around them.
Which is why, in the end, corporate America became an immediate fit for me (*props up business card proudly*). You are all probably familiar with the stereotypes surrounding certain corporate jargon and clichés. But if you have not actually experienced it for yourself, then your fancies do not even come close to approaching the reality. Imagine my wonder when, starry-eyed and ready to take on the world out of college, I realized that I didn’t have to say things like “I made a mistake” or “are we really sure this is a good idea?” anymore. Instead, all I had to say was “Let’s peel back the onion and drill down into why this happened” or “yes, but does it scale?”
Now if you’re asking yourself what an onion has anything to do with a catastrophic error (“is it like a low-hanging fruit? I know I’ve heard of that before. Is an onion a fruit?”), or what the actual hell scaling even means, you’re not alone. I have no clue. Never have. It doesn’t really matter. A day in corporate America is like a Catholic Mass said entirely in Latin. Namely, it’s really more about the “Ceremony” than it is about actually being able to understand what’s going on.
Let’s maybe take an example to illustrate my point. Please examine the below paragraph:
I went to see my friend yesterday. We had a really nice conversation! Unfortunately, he had to leave after an hour or so to go to a Doctor’s appointment. But I’m hoping we can talk again soon! We didn’t get to talk about everything we wanted to, so I’m hoping to hear more when we talk next. I don’t know exactly when that might be, but I’m thinking we could maybe chat next Friday!
Now, let’s tweak this *slightly* to make it a bit more corporate friendly:
Hey there, Chief. So hey, my friend and I were having a bit of a pow-wow the other day. Love that guy – really a change agent, you know? The sort that can move stuff forward without boiling the ocean. Anyway, we touched base on a few business-critical items, and were really able to roll up our sleeves and have a pretty robust and frictionless conversation. Truly a 110% effort. We’ll need to circle back at some point soon, do a little forward planning, you know? We have a few things that we need to bring back to the table and really drill down into a bit. We’re facing something of a paradigm shift at the moment, and we need people on the ship who can do more than just drink the Kool-Aid. I don’t have a guestimate yet of when we can connect again, but I’m hoping we can get this on the books ASAP. And listen, I know there’s no silver bullet here, and that there’s a lot of moving parts to handle. But I think we’re all aligned to the fact that we need to learn to do more with less. I know we’re all already knee-deep in it, but let’s be agile here, okay?
(*Swoons*) Simply sublime. Magical. Orgasmic. The unnecessary detail around his friend that nobody cares about or asked for? The mildly racist pow-wow reference? The uncanny knack to *just* *keep* *talking* despite the fact that most people stopped listening 12 buzzwords ago? I’ve never felt so seen.
For in the end, I am truly Corporate America’s chosen Avatar. Not only will I turn any meeting into a “Touch-base”, any challenge into a “Headwind”, and every meeting room into a “War Room”, but I will also turn perfectly normal things in my everyday life into a soulless, simulacrum of an office cubicle. Why have a “mildly inconvenient weather event” when you can have a “perfect storm”? You’d be amazed at how easily a date can turn into a “quick connect”. And man, what a game changer it’s been to begin thinking of my friends as “strategic partnerships”.
A pessimistic man would identify this as an unhealthy work-life balance in which the image I cultivate and brandish at work is seamlessly beginning to blend with my normal personality, thus forcing me into a moment of self-conflict in which I am no longer able to recognize the person I am or who I want to be.
But I’m an optimist.
And this sounds like a problem we can parking lot for now.