The Conversation Game: Flirting

When played, publicly or privately, by skilled contestants, it stimulates, comforts, and entertains. It needs no microchips, batteries, cards, balls, or boards, and it never wears outs. It is the favorite game played by women and men around the world: flirting.

Communications scholar Dr. Gerald Phillips explains: “When two dogs meet,  they sniff each other in order to decide what their relationship will be…People do their sniffing through some very highly structured communication exchanges.”

Flirting is like fly-casting—often you must cast more than once to get a bite. Remember to practice SOFTEN (smile, open posture with uncrossed arms, forward lean, touch, eye contact, nod).

Induce conversation by tossing ideas that provoke more than a responsive nibble. The weather is a boring subject. Hazy remarks about high humidity and dropping barometric pressure chill a conversation. Your diet is another topic about as tantalizing as last week’s iceberg lettuce.

Neither speech tics (“you know?” “right?” “listen” “um” “I mean” “like I said”) nor a persistent scowl is endearing.

An air of superiority stirs up resentment. Snobs lose in the flirting game. Interrupting and dominating the conversation are also violations. Never talk over someone; it is truly obnoxious.

To be treated like a fascinating flirt, master the trick of listening intently. Faking it is foul play and too many fumbles will banish the inept to society’s sidelines. An active listener improves her score by smiling at the appropriate moments, occasionally nodding, and practicing the echo technique (“You feel that way, too?”).

Just about everybody succumbs to the flattery of rapt attention. The patient, sympathetic listener possesses incalculable power.

Choose your words deliberately. Your flirting partner wants to slalom deftly, not suffocate in a verbal avalanche.

The poker player, when proficient in legerdemain, improves her odds. Likewise, the talented flirt clarifies or obfuscates (if that’s her intention) the meaning of her words by judiciously using “sleight-of-pause.” Stretch your intellect and exercise your sense of humor, but never at someone else’s expense.

Proffer compliments carefully. Sometimes they make people suspicious, embarrassed, defensive, or cynical.

The tone, pitch, and inflection of your voice provide information to your target. Don’t jeopardize your chances of victory by overexertion: the vocal chords are easily damaged. Screaming, shouting, or talking too loudly affect the muscles that control voice production.

A flirtation’s finale is as noteworthy as its overture. Always indicate interest in a future meeting (“See you later”).

Few of us will ever be as scintillating as Lewis Carroll:

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”