How we make that first impression

August 09, 1997


Staff Writer

Our attitudes, topics we speak about and how we talk are ways in which we present ourselves to other people, said Martin Malone.

Malone, 47, chairs the sociology department at Mount St. Mary's College. He shared these views and examined taped conversations in his book "Worlds of Talk," that was published in June by Polity Press of Cambridge and Blackwell Publishers Inc.

He said he has always been interested in how people present themselves to other people.

Malone, who lives in Gettysburg, Pa., said that although his book is based on audio recordings and the subjects knew they were being recorded, they are still authentic.


"It is the nature of conversation that even if you know you are being recorded, you have to be natural - you respond to what people say," he said.

He can tell if people are happy, cynical or career-oriented without people telling him they are that way.

For example, in one of his sessions noted in the 182-page book, he said there was a group of people who have known each other for a long time. It is an example of one person in a group trying to get the support of others.

"What seems to happen is that he wants to show the rest of the group that he is just like they are. He asks another person's interests. It then gives him the chance to talk about his own interests," he said.

"If he had started the conversation talking about his own interests, they would think he's egotistical. The way he did it he can show them that he's just like everyone else. This builds connections without sounding like he's dominating the conversation."

Another example is how people use pronouns. He said that when he lectures he always says, "what we've been talking about this week," even though it was only him talking while the students were taking notes.

Using the "we" pronoun gives the rest of the class the feeling of being involved.

"We use `we' to create a social situation," he said.

On the other hand, when people use the third person in a conversation to talk about someone involved in the conversation, it shuts that person out of the group. He said it creates conflict.

The book is the extension of a dissertation entitled "Speech and Social Identity" that he wrote 12 years ago while receiving his Ph.D. at Indiana University.

Malone has been teaching at Mount St. Mary's since the fall of 1985. He said he will be using his book in a junior honors class that starts in January. This fall he will teach a criminal justice class on deviant behavior and a senior seminar class on non-Western culture.

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