I have a morbid fascination with the idea that conversations represent two computers trying to program each other in real time. Pondering this sometimes yields insights that seem to be valid but manipulative. Here are two examples; you can decide whether these moves should be used. The first has to do with IM/chat conversations. Do you ever tire of closing rituals that take too long?
B: Yup, ttyl
A: Have a good weekend
B: Thanks, am looking forward to chilling on my camping trip. You have a nice weekend too.
A: Oh, where are you going?
I’ve found a move that tends to cut off these sessions surgically. I call it repeat-or-complement. The first time the other person uses a closing phrase, you either repeat it exactly (mirroring) or provide the most ritualistic, banal complementary response available. In the example above, the response to Ciao! should have been Ciao!, not ttyl. This works for neutral/symmetric closings. If you get something like Thanks, you should choose You’re welcome (no exclamation point). Not no problem or anytime dude.
A second example before I generalize. In straggling email exchanges, when no closure is in sight, I find that the shorter-than-your-last-response rule works. No matter what I say, I should make sure that I say it in fewer words than your last response. So this sort of closing move, in terms of the email’s word count, would go something like A: 100 words, B: 80 words, A: 60 words, D: 40 words. It almost never fails to work. People subconsciously seem to synchronize their shortening rates in a sequence of responses. You don’t want to shorten too much at each step, since that will be perceived as insulting. How much you can shorten depends on the formal power relationship. A VP can respond to a 100-word email from Joe Schmoe in 3 words and not cause offense. A peer will need to hit around 80 for anything that clearly needs a substantive response and does not merit offline escalation. No strict rules here of course and a LOT depends on the content of the email.
The psychology of both examples is a mix of power-parity tendencies and null-detection.
Power-parity first. In either medium (IM or email), whoever says shorter things is perceived as having more power. In IM, since everybody is saying very short things anyway, the party perceived as “weaker” is the one who is more effusive/enthusiastic. Unconsciously, people try to mirror each others’ level of power signaling, and try and gain a slight advantage in each move of the game. Paradoxically, in closings, this tendency is somewhat reversed, and we are inclined to feel generous, by being the last to say something nice (in ritualistic exchanges, striving to have the last word is considered polite, whereas in information-packed exchanges, it is considered rude).
Null detection is a more subtle effect. Humans are not particularly great at judging the information density of what they say or hear, but are great at detecting null events. You may not be able to tell how much two colors differ, but you are amazingly accurate at detecting when they don’t differ. The same applies to text. When you mirror a closing phrase, the other person subconsciously goes “ttyl-ttyl= zero bits” and shuts up. Even though the subtle gradations of meaning between ttyl and ciao are non-trivial, strict cancellations are easily detected. When strict cancellation is not an option (thanks! is not an appropriate response to thanks!), we try the next best thing: complementary responses. You’re welcome does the best job of cauterizing a thank you because it is the most ritualistic response possible. People recognize that no more bits of information are coming their way. Anything else is ambiguous and leaves a sense of “hmm, is there something either or us meant to say but didn’t?”
And no, I don’t use either rule of thumb too often. They work, but they make me uncomfortable somehow.