Posturetalk, Powertalk, Babytalk and Gametalk (The Gervais Principle II)

Ideas excerpted from one of Venkatesh Rao excellent posts providing analysis on these topics; Mr. Rao couches most of his analysis in reference to the series The Office (U.S. version).

The four major languages spoken in organizations, among Sociopaths, Losers and the Clueless are; Posturetalk, Powertalk, Babytalk and Gametalk.

Powertalk is the in-group language of the Sociopaths. Posturetalk is the language spoken by the clueless to everybody. Sociopaths and Losers talk back to the Clueless in a language called Babytalk that seems like Posturetalk to the Clueless. Among themselves, Losers speak a language called Gametalk. This is the only language that has been properly studied and documented. Finally, Sociopaths and Losers speak rarely to each other at all. One of the functions of the Clueless, recall, is to provide a buffer in what would otherwise be a painfully raw master-slave dynamic in a pure Sociopath-Loser organization. But when they do talk, they actually speak an unadorned language you could call Straight Talk if it were worth naming. It is the ordinary (if rare) utilitarian language of the sane, with no ulterior motives flying around. It is ‘mean-what-you-say-and-say-what-you-mean’ stuff between two people in a fixed, asymmetric power relationship, who don’t want or need to play real or fake power games.

Multiple layers of meaning are not what make Powertalk unique. Irony and sarcasm are modes of layered communication available to anybody. Gametalk is all about multiple (usually two) levels of communication. What distinguishes Powertalk is that with every word uttered, the power equation between the two speakers shifts just a little. Sometimes both gain slightly, at the expense of some poor schmuck. Sometimes one yields ground to the other. Powertalk in other words, is a consequential language. Losers can partially understand, but not speak Powertalk. To them, Powertalk is a spectator sport.

When the Clueless or Losers talk, on the other hand, nothing really changes. Posturetalk, Babytalk and Gametalk leave power relations basically unchanged. Posturetalk and Babytalk leave things unchanged because they are, to quote Shakespeare, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Gametalk leaves power relations unchanged because its entire purpose is to help Losers put themselves and each other into safe pigeonholes that validate do-nothing life scripts.

Another way to understand the difference between Powertalk and the other languages is with a card-playing analogy. In Powertalk, you play with money (the currency is most often reality-information). In the other languages you are playing with no stakes. The most important factor in being able to speak Powertalk is the possession of table stakes. Without it, whatever you say is Posturetalk. If you are Clueless or a Loser and accidentally acquire some leverage but can’t speak Powertalk, the old adage applies: a fool and his money are soon parted. Or another saying; you don’t get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate.

For Sociopaths conditions of conflict of interest and moral hazard are not exceptional. They are normal, everyday situations. To function effectively they must constantly maintain and improve their position in the ecosystem of other Sociopaths; protecting themselves, competing, forming alliances, trading favors and building trust. Above all they must be wary of Sociopaths with misaligned agendas, and protect themselves in basic ways before attempting things like cooperation. They never lower their masks. In fact they are their masks. There is nothing beneath.

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Interesting to read, although a bit difficult to understand. I am interested in a sentence that you wrote down: "the old adage applies: a fool and his money are soon parted" Or another saying; you do not get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate ". In my opinion, at this moment money and power become the main, the ability of individuals to be number 2.


yes, i think that is true in many ways // yes, my overview was pretty broad ... i just find it a very interesting topic // thanks

OMG.. Difficult to understand these ... talk.


yeah, maybe difficult to understand at first ... I find it a fascinating subject


Very few people at the entry level, become sociopaths later on and the rest are just divided classes below them. It's always sociopaths that are the main driving forces behind big organisations.

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