Attitudes & Emotions

In many social situations, the main purpose of conversation is to establish/or reinforce the relationship between the speakers. The information conveyed in these conversations is often less important than the attitudes and emotions that are (mostly indirectly) expressed. People signal their attitudes and emotions in quite a few different ways, simultaneously. If you have trouble “reading” people, it may be that you’re focusing too much on the literal meanings of their words and ignoring all the other signals.

You may not always know what to say and when to say it, but if you can project a friendly, non-threatening “vibe,” people will enjoy communicating with you. (Think of young children and non-native speakers who may get the grammar wrong and may not have learned our arbitrary cultural conventions, yet still have successful and enjoyable social interactions.)  On the other hand, no matter how valuable your information is, people will not attend to it if you are (even inadvertently) projecting hostility or creepiness.

Social initiation describes how to make initial contact and get a conversation going. This should always go hand-in-hand with expressing emotions, as it is vital to recognize whether the other person is expressing annoyance with you (telling you to back off) or trying to appear friendly, to encourage you to continue with the conversation. (There are, of course, quite a few other attitudes and emotions covered in this section, which are no less important to recognize.)

Showing interest via active listening is one of the most important skills involved in keeping conversations going. Power and solidarity is how we calculate how polite we need to be to avoid causing offense or hurting people’s feelings; we can look at how polite they are (and what forms that politeness takes) to decode how they see their relationship with us.

Indirect speech is one of our most common politeness strategies, and one that is often particularly difficult for people with social communication challenges to master. We hope to demystify both why people feel the need to be indirect so often and how they do this. Even if you wish to continue being very direct yourself, you will get a great deal more out of conversations if you can read between the lines. Sarcasm can be especially challenging for people with social communication difficulties, and so we have a learning module devoted specifically to this.

Finally, in addition to professional and friendly interactions, people also regularly change their speech style to signal romantic and/or sexual interest, i.e. flirting. It is not the goal of this website to facilitate hook-ups, but you can get into a great deal of social trouble with a lot of hurt feelings if you appear to be flirting when you have no such intention, or if you fail to recognize signs that someone is flirting with you.