How to Talk to Human Beings


Nice article, like always… you got one thing wrong or at least very biased.

“The difference between a child who freaks out at the slightest breeze, and a child who can confidently navigate an unfamiliar world? The parents.”

That’s just the nurture part, but we know that there is the nature/nurture duality/interaction.

Much of who we are is already determined before we’re even born, including the seeds for coping strategies, etc.


hey, can I use the cat picture in this article in my Weibo? :slight_smile:


Jeff, Larry: The plural of anecdote is not evidence. It seems every parent ever has discovered at least one panacea for misbehaving kids, and this one doesn’t sound any better than most.

The mobile guy was just venting, and it doesn’t sound like he was about to start crying or hitting anyone until he got a better signal. Patronizing him that way would at best made him realize that he was pointlessly venting among strangers who couldn’t help him (thus shaming him into shutting up), or at worst would have made him angry for treating him like a baby.


In a similar vein, I highly recommend re-reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Incredibly useful in conversing with everyone, small children (we have a 3-1/2 yo) and grown executives. I ignored it for years before reading it (actually listening to the audio version, which is great, then reading it) 10 years ago, dismissing it as “fakery and manipulation” with the sheer confidence of ignorance. Its good stuff, guys, and sounds fairly similar to the style of advice given here.


I needed some time to figure out, that the story with the mother and the Toastie Crunchy were two comics not a single one.
The gap between the two is really small.


I agree with Narro, a little more space between them would be great.

And about that comic, I don’t recognize the age of the kid, but when I was 5/6 I told my mom I wanted something and she said something quite similiar like “I want to have the [magical] powers to give you everything you want”.

That moment the only thing I though was “OMG, how stup1d can she be? That’s not a solution, that’s not an appropiate answer!”. Of course I left quietly, but I remember that moment vividly because that’s the moment I realized I couldn’t talk to my mom.

On the other hand, since I remember I always understood reasoning. “We don’t have money for that” made me think that it sucked to be me, but I understood.

Again, I don’t remember before I was 4 so it could be aimed there, but careful using this advice with older people :wink:


People in the learned/genetic flamewar - let’s separate out two things:

  • Personality (MBTI, or similar, sets of behavioural preferences)
  • Behaviour (a function of personality and context.)

Personality has both genetic and environmental components, and tends only to “settle down” when someone is about 7 (I don’t have a reference for this, but I did just hear a lecture on it, and I trust the academic who gave it, at least on this point.) In any case, we can probably assert that there’s a strong influence from genetics, especially outside of “extreme” environments.

Behaviour is a function of personality, but it is also strongly influenced by context, and the context difference between single and multi-child households is huge.

I would argue that parental (and indeed sibling) behaviour, is a strong driver of the child’s behaviour; I’d be interested in studies that seek to find ways to separate out the genetic component (although they’d be difficult to implement owing to ethical rules; treating two twins differently, for instance, would probably be unacceptable, and unless they were isolated from each other there would be behavioural cross-pollination anyway!)


As a parent myself with similar proclivities, let me voice my agreement here on a few points made in the article and in the comments:

  1. Parenting is hard. (But fun and rewarding).
  2. Different children are as different as different adults. No. Really. They aren’t just automatons. They actually make their own decisions and decide how they are going to react to different situations.
  3. #2 doesn’t mean you are helpless as a parent. On the contrary, the better you understand this, the better job you can do.

#2 and #3 are not mutually exclusive. Children are genetically very different AND you can still make a huge difference based upon how you raised them.

Silly humans, always trying to pick one extreme or the other. :slight_smile:


This is what Ed Bernays in “Propaganda” explained in 1929 applied onto the masses. The propagandist should create a fuzz about something related, but not eye-cathingly so, let some outside factor decide there is a problem and then get somebody to notice that the solution is or goes with the product or action that the propagandist wants to sell. You just applied this manipulation onto the brain of your child. you’re welcome.


sorry to say that you have lost me as a reader with this extremely maudlin post.


@Tony, I hear you want to unsubscribe because you fell this post is maudlin?


That book was recommended to me when my daughter was born 18 years ago. It was worth its weight in gold while bringing up the kids, but I tend to forget that the advise applies to communicating with people in general.


me: Your dog keeps shitting in my yard.
you: It bothers you when there’s poop in your yard.

Sure, this might work on kids, but when people do it to adults they’re just being creeps. Now I know why people think they can get away with this crap.


Baby Brain Rules was good for me. Some of the examples here I read from this book. A lot of studies referenced.


@chrismealy Obviously in your example, the person you’re speaking to is the cause of the problem and has a social responsibility to stop his dog from crapping in your yard.

I think you can still use this “active listening” style technique with adults, but you can’t just repeat what they said back to them while prefixing it with “I hear you…”.

The essence is that you should show empathy for someone before steering them toward a solution. You can do this much more subtly than in the examples above, but the basic concept is the same.


Children lack empathy. Or at least empathy as developed as adults. So obviously ways of communicating with kids would be different from communicating with your neighbor.


While we’re on the topic of parenting books, I’m had great success with "Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons."
And the “Teach Me Kindergarden” iOS app is pretty genius as well.


I thought this was a programming blog?


I second reading Steven Pinker’s books. “The stuff of thought” goes into detail on the nature/nurture debate and basically destroys it. More people need to read his books.

From a programmer’s perspective, it is quite fascinating to think about our minds in terms of compilers that take outside phenomenon such as time, space, or movement, and output a language that illustrates those and more complex phenomenon to other people.


Larry Bank & Jon Nyman, you are both right. It’s a combination of nature and nurture. (But do not underestimate the power of conditioning.)