The Art of Conversation

11/18/10 8:16 PM

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The Art of Conversation in Brief
1. Don't talk too long without pausing for a reaction. More than a minute is usually too long. Forty seconds is ideal. 2. Never contradict or flatly disagree with the other person. It's an implied insult. 3. Don't be too forceful or emphatic in stating your opinions until you learn the other person's attitude. 4. Give the other person intellectual freedom and cooperation, and claim them for yourself.

Notes from The Art of Conversation
by Milton Wright, 1936
The ability to talk well can be cultivated. Interest you must have if your conversation is to be successful. Interest can lie primarily in the subject or the person, the latter being by far the surer ingredient for success. To chatter is easy. To talk resultfully with the hostile, suspicious, indifferent or even friendly is an art. To really become a good conversationalist over the long term it is necessary to acquire the habit of conscientiously stocking your mind with facts and information and then forming opinions on the basis of that knowledge. A monologue is not a conversation. Silence plays an important part in effective conversation just as it does in music. Masters of the art of conversation rarely give advice, and
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and as much as possible of an acknowledgment of the other party's merits. salesmen.htm Page 2 of 11 . but not with others. etc. artistic and acquisitive instincts may be appealed to with some people. A mutual dislike stimulates conversation. practise the latter. Conversation for its own sake has two distinct aims: Companionship The exchange of ideas Four instincts may always be appealed to in conversation: Attraction Self-assertion Pugnacity Curiosity Three instincts may sometimes be appealed to: Sex Art Acquisition The sex. lobbyists. Moreover. only when requested.basicincome. more discretion is required in tapping these instincts if they are to produce good conversation. The secret of giving advice successfully is to mix it up with something that implies a real consciousness of the adviser's own defects. It is given tentatively and without seeming to impose their wishes. preachers.The Art of Conversation 11/18/10 8:16 PM then. To plant a suggestion is a real test of conversational skill. usually.com/bp/artofconv. It is easy to http://www. Types of Conversation & The Role of Instinct Conversation is of two basic types: Conversation for its own sake Conversation for some other purpose Politicians.

The instinct of pugnacity may be appealed to by challenging someone with a statement with which they cannot wholly agree. Usually it should be implied rather than expressed. flattery is not something to be generally condemned. It is far better to ask a racing enthusiast who will win the Kentucky Derby this year than who won it last. Perhaps this is conversation at its highest and most rewarding. wonder.htm Page 3 of 11 .The Art of Conversation 11/18/10 8:16 PM stimulate most people to talk if you can find their pet peeve. Curiosity may be appealed to by provoking someone to question.com/bp/artofconv. It provides a very proper stimulus to the self-assertive instinct and thus promotes the interchange of information and ideas. Perhaps the strongest instinct is parental affection.basicincome. but they prefer to impart it. Beware of doing this unless you share their viewpoint. One-on-one Conversation http://www. however. Talk to someone (especially a woman) about their children and they are deeply interested. it may cause more harm than good. When it is insincere or overdone. The instincts which must always be avoided are: Repulsion Self-abasement Fear Contrary to popular impression. People like to acquire information. Flattery must be sincere. or speculate. Best of all they like to be asked their opinion because you pay them a higher compliment by asking what they think than by asking what they know. When asking for someone for information or their opinion be careful not to arouse self-abasement by exposing their ignorance or strutting your own knowledge.

recreation. but provides greater latitude for making mistakes.com/bp/artofconv. People like those who: Like them Appreciate them Admire them Like the same things as they do Are the same kind of people they are (usually) Are helpful If you do not fit into one or more of these categories. `If you wish to prepossess one in your favour.' http://www. politics. Note that four of the six topics. current events in that order. home. DO NOT attempt to be friends. Complete self-confidence often engenders antagonism in conversation.basicincome.htm Page 4 of 11 in themselves are William Hazlitt .The Art of Conversation 11/18/10 8:16 PM One-on-one conversation is easier than group conversation. Attitudes to cultivate in dialogue are: Interest in the person Interest in the subject Friendliness Sincerity Candour Helpfulness People who are uncomfortable disagreeable to others. are personal. According to Nietzsche. including the first two. health. According to a study the average American male is interested in job. you must be embarrassed before him. In one-on-one conversation there are two subconscious aims: To get to know the other person To reveal yourself Generally these aims should not be aimed at directly.

and if there is no attraction there is often antagonism. Conversation Between the Sexes Sex is always in the background of any conversation between a man and a woman. In times of trouble a sympathetic ear is more valuable to most people than anything that can be said to them. You store up emphasis for the statement you eventually make.htm Page 5 of 11 . even though it were but to die at your feet. The object of a conversation between the sexes is to increase the other's pleasant emotions. Such barriers are: Age Sex Experience Superiority Inferiority It is easier to talk with an inferior than with a superior. Benvenuto Cellini's line for the young women of Florence was. The advantages of listening are: You conceal your own weakness. but it is not easier to talk well. You learn the other person's attitude. You give the other person enjoyment.The Art of Conversation 11/18/10 8:16 PM In dialogue conversation should usually not be brilliant or scintillating.com/bp/artofconv.basicincome. In dialogue about half your time should be spent listening unless it is clear that the other person wishes you to talk more. `I would swim through rivers of blood to come to you.' The dangers of using a line are: http://www. While conversation should generally attempt to remove barriers there are some barriers that cannot be removed and no attempt should be made to do so. A line or opening gambit may be adopted in conversation if you are slow in thinking of something appropriate to say.

The slightest indifference with regard to them. legal briefs. albeit unconscious. Women like to be courted. But intuition is a higher form of reasoning. but men are better losers. unless a woman has a man's mind.htm Page 6 of 11 . and is likely to be freer of error. others pretend to like it. It takes a man to be brilliant at chess. Generally speaking women are better at conversation than men. or distrust of yourself. Other differences. According to Hazlitt: Gallantry to women—the sure road to their favour— is nothing but the appearance of extreme devotion to all their wants and wishes. Some women like this role. a delight in their satisfaction. as being able to contribute towards it. Men can talk about people in general. They think faster but not necessarily so thoroughly. Women are more observant and can detect the least trace of dishonesty in men. men to plod. Women are intuitive rather than analytical.basicincome. Women are more personal in their thinking. and a confidence in yourself.com/bp/artofconv. Women are inclined to flit. especially people in relation to themselves. are: Men are more whimsical and have a better sense of humour but women are quicker witted. math. by no means universal. Men are more sentimental but women's emotions run deeper. women must talk about people in particular.The Art of Conversation 11/18/10 8:16 PM Overworking it Repeating it in the presence of the same persons Relying on it to the detriment of spontaneity Many men enjoy conversation if the woman is an appreciative audience. a few are openly bored. Women are more sensitive to subtle stimuli and are better actors than men. Women are more reckless. If women start talking about things they will soon be talking about people. are equally fatal. There are no noticeable differences between men and women as regards: http://www.

They recognized that all members (limited to nine) must be congenial and a unanimous vote was necessary for the election of a new member. General Conversation The main purpose of general conversation is to entertain. Hence their alertness and skill in conversation. There should be no periods of silence. a sermon. Edmund Burke. Sir Joshua Reynolds. Each person must do his share AND NO MORE. In general conversation alcoholic historically been considered important. The famous seventeenth century Literary Club of Samuel Johnson.htm Page 7 of 11 . every evening (later every week and then every two weeks) and talked into the small hours. women have had to work with people instead of things to accomplish their ends. Conversation is neither a lecture.M. Oliver Goldsmith.com/bp/artofconv. No topic should be dragged out.basicincome. The tone should be kept good-natured. General conversation should conform to the following principles: The topic must be of general interest. met at a tavern at 7:00 P.The Art of Conversation 11/18/10 8:16 PM Love of gossip Vanity Avarice Ambition Moral standards Because men are reluctant to allow women to compete with them on an equal footing. To insist on always being right subjects listeners to the emotion of self-abasement. No one should be offended by anything said. nor a debate. http://www. refreshment has To make a practice of advancing propositions and then proving them conclusively is fatal to conversation. David Garrick et al.

and insults are things to be resented. One must stay in tune with the conversation. opinions and prejudices more than they like logic. nor to suggest circumstances about which people are likely to be touchy. In general conversation. `One always sounds foolish when one has nothing to say. Many cannot keep their emotions from rising when discussing certain subjects. According to Voltaire. To talk shop in the presence of someone to whom such talk is foreign is extreme discourtesy. Few people master logic or listen attentively to logical argument.The Art of Conversation 11/18/10 8:16 PM If you have nothing to say on the topic under discussion. `Take as many half-minutes as you http://www. Only a few people would sooner listen than speak. Sometimes when you find yourself with nothing to contribute to a general conversation you may feel uncomfortable and inadequate.com/bp/artofconv. there is no place for mockery. or flat contradiction. Many people like their beliefs. Sarcasm is worst of all because sarcasm implies contempt. To stay on topic is not enough. The impulse to get rid of the feeling by saying something is best resisted. Rarely insist on logic because: The best topics of conversation don't readily lend themselves to logical treatment. belittlement.basicincome. Otherwise one's remarks will grate on the rest of the company. especially.' Attempting to steer the conversation round to your pet subjects will engender resentment in your listeners. It is an insult.htm Page 8 of 11 . The only safe course in unfamiliar company is neither to be severely critical of anyone. If that emotion comes out in a negative way then the subject must be changed. say nothing. Hence Sydney Smith's motto.

If congenial conversation is your aim forget about debating tactics.' Anecdotes Discussion of abstractions becomes wearisome unless relieved by stories or anecdotes. Taking advantage of this fact will certainly cause conversation to suffer.com/bp/artofconv. A story must not only be on the subject under discussion but in tune with the discussion. Again. in general conversation. but never more than a half.basicincome. They must be interesting. honesty in thinking is often less effective in argument than sincerity which is blind to any merit in an opposing viewpoint.minute without pausing to give others an opportunity to strike in. For example. clarity and persistence often win arguments though they have nothing to do with logic or fairness of mind.The Art of Conversation 11/18/10 8:16 PM can get. it's easier to prove someone wrong than to prove yourself right and therefore it is good debating tactics to attempt the former. but it must be in good humour. No one should be justified in saying `So what?' A story must proceed by a series of hops. Most people distrust statistics.htm Page 9 of 11 . Success in argument or debate and success in conversation are often mutually incompatible goals. usually short. http://www. Again. The Uses of Argument Argument can be a tonic to conversation. The speaker should enjoy the emotions of the story (dead pan humour is overrated) without letting his story get the better of him. skips and jumps. relevant. pointed and. Using statistics to prove or strengthen one's case should be avoided whenever possible.

com/bp/artofconv. The ideal conversationalist is: Well-informed Sympathetic Interested in life Has a sense of the dramatic Moderate Can draw out the other person Attentive http://www. If you concede a point to the other person he will be inclined to concede a point to you. Without tact a person. `There are lies. To argue in conversation one must have complete control of one's emotions. The elements that make up tact are alertness. By contrast. is a menace to themselves and others whenever they engage in conversation. learned or sincere. Even if agreement on the point at issue is impossible one should at least try to agree with the person. sympathy. A conciliatory attitude in admitting the truth of a statement will place him under an obligation to be conciliatory too.basicincome.htm Page 10 of 11 . Concluding Remarks No quality is so conducive to pleasure in conversation as tact. While one fault will make a person a bad conversationalist.' has come into common usage with good reason. there are damn lies and there are statistics. He must possess many qualities. These are facts that are lost on many people. however witty.The Art of Conversation 11/18/10 8:16 PM The phrase. Moreover one should always leave an opponent a means of retreat and sometimes even intentionally lose an argument. and resourcefulness. and some with temperament. some of them having to do with character. disagreement breeds disharmony and often antagonism. some with intellect. one virtue will not make him a good one. The purpose of argument in conversation is agreement because agreement promotes harmony.

Even if you have a wholly unselfish desire to reform your listeners. However instructive. He should not dwell on moral issues or take the attitude of teaching his listeners. Give it every opportunity.basicincome.The Art of Conversation 11/18/10 8:16 PM Always in good humour Has a sense of proportion Doesn't preach Doesn't take himself too seriously Not argumentative Original Broad-minded Charitable Unselfish Considerate Flexible Poised Enthusiastic A trifle whimsical If you find the world dull. Philosophy Lovers! Click Here http://www.htm Page 11 of 11 . Everyone's emotion of elation is waiting for a chance to assert itself.com/bp/artofconv. eloquent and even interesting he may be the result is not conversation. The good conversationalist should seldom preach or give advice. the chances are that your companions will find you dull. Desire only to please the people with whom you are talking and you will infallibly do so. it is well to realize that they won't like it.

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