“Squishtalks should compete with Dale Carnegie Schools,” Aaron told me last week. His comment arose as we talked about how we enjoyed the opportunity to be reflective around this festive time of year. I had explained that the types of interactions offered through Squishtalks programs, retreats and workshops led participants into facets of character and authenticity; an exploration of the nobler aspects of the human condition. What Squishtalks is not, I explained to Aaron, is a set of techniques aimed at developing charisma and skills of manipulation or influence.

On reflection, this brought to mind my own vanities and egotistical desires. One of my favorite ebullient if gaudy pop songs from my teens was “When will I be famous” by Bros. I would be a hypocrite if I did not acknowledge my own pleasure at being esteemed by others, deservedly or otherwise. As colorfully absurd as the 1980’s were, it presaged a growing movement towards a culture, or cult, of personality instead of character. The desire to be famous for the sake of it rather than it being earned through meritorious endeavor has been the subject of growing research, such as this piece in The Scientific American by Scott Barry Kaufman.

This is where attention to a diligent and open conversational life is of benefit. Where the desire for fame results from narcissism or anxieties about social exclusion, conversation can be the art that leads us to a more gracious life. Engaging in the art of conversation allows people to develop an empathetic outrospection instead of narcissism. It fosters social capital and human connection that mitigates exclusion, engendering pro-social insights into our character and our external behavior.

At Christmas, with the spirit of the season upon us, how will you employ conversation with an eye to character not charisma?