Jun 19


Tag: JournalKal @ 11:20 am

So I have this colleague, hugely senior in his field.

A friend and I once sat down and realised that not only did he have more than double our combined clinical experience, but that he was practicing medicine at a senior level before we were born.

He’s internationally renowned, travels the world lecturing and consulting.

He’s gentle, kind, garrulous and generous almost to a fault. His pragmatism in medicine and in his personal conduct is exemplary.

He is exactly the sort of person you should strive to be.

A true target for one’s future.

But you’d never know it.

Because (and I’m onto him on this) he has this neat little trick. He’ll engage you in conversation, ask you about yourself, find something in your response to hang the next question on (and this may well be a topic that he is very familiar with) and then he’ll hit you with this:

“It’s really not my area, you’ll know much more more about it than me…”

I’ve seen him do this in several situations. I’ve flown into Med-Evac jobs in the desert with him and he’s come over the intercom in my ears.

“This isn’t my field…you take the lead.”

It’s not buttering you up, or sycophantic. He manages to make it sound like a simply practical matter, and then acts on it. This is no empty gesture, followed by him taking the lead anyway, as I’ve seen others do in the past. That’s the adult equivalent of giving your kid a “big boy’s job” because they’re desperate to help in the kitchen.

No, he deliberately puts himself onto the back burner to allow you to shine, and you come away from any encounter with him thinking “What a thoroughly lovely bloke…”

And I’ve stolen his trick.

I hate awkward conversations, that feeling where one of you is desperately paddling to get the other one to come along and keep the discussion flowing. The best conversations, I tend to find, are those where both parties are secure in their own understanding of where they stand. I never feel awkward when discussing with a patient what my thoughts are regarding their condition, because we each have a clearly stated role – patient/clinician.

These roles can be clearly defined, but not necessarily always comfortably. Often when one party is driving the conversation by trying to appear interested, it can fall into a pattern of interrogator/prisoner. Equally not good.

So the other day, as I’d met someone for the first time, I asked them about their day job. They were, it turned out, studying an area of psychology, particularly memory creation. It turned out that I had listened, just the day before, to a podcast about exactly this and I was excited to find someone to discuss it with.

But before I jumped in with “Oooh, I know about this…”, I started with “I heard something like that…it’s probably very simplistic compared to what you’re doing, though.”

She, sweetly, encouraged me to elaborate and together we vanished down a path of animated discussion.

Anybody else out there got any conversation hacks?

5 Responses to “Humble?”

  1. Old Geezer says:

    The son of some friends of my wife’s parents (no really) used to start every conversation with, “Tell me about this.” He would pick something of interest to you and then step back to let you expound. I have tried to use this as much as possible since I first heard him say this some 55 years ago.


  2. Jon says:

    There is a lot of stuff written about doctor patient interaction. Google John Heritage UCLA and watch 4 years of your life disappear!

    Much love


  3. Peter Miles says:

    It’s not really a conversation hack as such but if I meet anyone who seems a little shy I ask them what they do. You know as a job or a hobby or whatever seems most important to them. Follow that up with “You know, it’s strange but everyone elses job/hobby/whatever always seems more interesting than your own. Why is that?”

    This never fails to bring on an interesting conversation, and I learn stuff too which is always handy!


  4. World'sMostAnxiousPerson says:

    I love that idea. I’m now in a job where I have to schmooze people and I find it really awkward, am so going to try that !!



  5. VinaigretteGirl says:

    Sadly, it’s all too easy with men to just say “tell me what you do” and 8 times out iof 10 that’s twenty minutes gone, no bother…

    Seriously, though, the best social conversation hacks I’ve found, especially in groups of mixed foreign-language people, is to ask about favourite foods, perhaps what their mum or dad cooked “for special”, and that can be a great general topic that moves on to recipes, tastes, agriculture, climate, whatever. Also, everybody was a child at one time, and subliminally it helps strangers reach out to at least one common, universal experience.


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