Conversational Macro: – [noun] (con vur SA shun el MA kro) – a set of canned phrases and stock figures-of-speech employed in repetitive conversational situations.
Background: Like many rookie Wall Street analysts, I was initially overwhelmed with the sheer amount work I was assigned when I started my job, building and editing financial models in Excel. From an investment-banking firm’s point of view, paying for analysts' dinners and midnight limo rides home were cheap tools to extract extra labor from the ambitious young men and women who populate its lower ranks. My dreams of jetting around the country wining and dining clients on the corporate American Express card were quickly dashed: in exchange for big salaries and prestigious offices, we were expected to do mind-numbingly, repetitive work.
Lots of mind-numbing, repetitive work.
There’s no glory in reinventing the wheel – and we quickly learned from seasoned analysts the labor-saving wonder that is the Macro function: a simple user-defined programming script that collapses repetitive tasks (like updating a multi-tab financial model spreadsheet with a company’s most recent 10-Q) into a single keystroke. Thirty minutes of hunt-copy-paste becomes a simple alt-[letter shortcut]. Macros appeal powerfully to lazy slugs like myself, and I began to notice parallels with its use in social situations.
Have you ever had a conversation where you feel like you were speaking on autopilot, with only a tiny fraction of your conciousness engaged? Do you have a large library of canned phrases you’ve learned to say in response to certain queries? Have you found yourself locked into familiar debates, in which you already know your opponent’s rebuttal, the appropriate counter-rebuttal, and the expected counter-counter-rebuttal before a word is uttered?
Genuinely engaging dialogue breaks us out of the maze of interlocking conversational macros that dominate most of our lives. Excessive use conversational macros reflect a stagnant mind; ultimately, humans only learn and grow when we open ourselves to the possibility of surprise.
Usage: “I was hoping this woman would be interesting, but a few minutes into dinner, my brain was half-asleep; she and I were both running standard first-date conversational macros. It was one of the most excruciatingly boring evenings of my life.”