All conversations have one or more goals, for both sides. Sometimes that goal is simple enjoyment, or passing the time, or developing neighborly good feeling. But sometimes the purpose is more tangible, which usually involves persuasion.

There is a cultural norm, in some pockets of our culture and under some circumstances, against persuasion. Explicitly “selling” is crude, going into these conversations with an intent is morally questionable. Seduction is a good example of this. In many contexts there is not really ambiguity that people are pursuing sex, but we may expect some degree of plausible deniability and artfulness, even to ourselves. In business, goal-orientation is less objectionable, but an overly direct approach may still come across as gauche or improper.

If you take your goals seriously, whatever they are, you are more likely to accomplish them. But due to these norms it can be uncomfortable to admit that you’re actually pursuing them. It is more pleasant, surely, to imagine yourself passing the time enjoyably with a comrade. In high-trust contexts you may be solving a problem together rather than convincing someone to adopt your solution. But everyone needs to persuade from time to time, and if you don’t recognize those moments you are more likely to fail.

In a naive view this feels artificial and selfish. But/and success in the world comes from moving past this.

For me, I realized that my default conversational goal is to be respected and well-liked for kindness and intelligence, and secondarily to get to know the person I’m talking with better. I don’t think these goals are bad, in general. To be liked and respected for good qualities is a force for good in human society (this feels like an Adam Smith argument – maybe someday there will be a citation here). But realizing that these goals are essentially self-serving has helped me come to terms with trying to achieve other goals as well.

On the other hand, high-trust mutual problem-solving is an extremely good form of conversation, both pleasant and good for the world. So another good approach is try to bring that norm into more contexts than feels comfortable, thereby expanding the circle where it is common and appropriate.