16 March 2010

Conversational Formalities

Yesterday I posted a tweet about how I had gotten a haircut on Sunday and the unexpected thing that my boss had said in reaction to it. But on the way home yesterday, the precursor to the reaction made me think about social convention and conversational formalities.
I found it quite odd that, despite it being quite obvious that I've had a haircut, it seemed that there is this unwritten social convention to start conversations about one's change in appearance by moving into the topic by first posing an obvious question about said changes. In the case of my haircut, I was asked "Did you get a haircut?" Though the answer, in my case, was quite obvious (otherwise I was a master of hair and could disguise my hair to look like its much much shorter than it was before), the question seemed unnecessary. Some may say that this question is an important entrance into the subject in conversation, but then again the conversation could have started instead with "Your haircut looks good," or some other non-inquisitory statement. Some may also say that, in other cases, some appearance changes are subtle and require questioning, but I still hold that the question stands as a conversation starter (and most often, there is still an alternative entrance into the subject without questioning).
I understand that these types of rhetorical questions are merely just shows of good manners, but I can't help but feel that they are antiquated conversation starters. I also know, from past experiences, that this "good-natured" small talk can be used as a mood setter, especially when the starter is asking for something from the subject. I know it seems somewhat cynical of me to say that people will think "I want something from you, but I'll dance around it by complementing you to put you in a good mood so it would benefit me," but in sales and marketing, psychological manipulation can go a long way in getting what you want.

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