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( Originally Published Early 1900's )
There are some persons whom a hostess always dreads to see at her party. They are like just so many punctures in an automobile tire-making it bump along flat on the rim instead of rolling blithely over the asphalt.
No use having a party, you know, without plenty of buoyancy in it. The first of these party puncturers is the buttonholer. You don't have to wear a coat with a buttonhole in the lapel to experience him or her. You may be a pretty girl in an evening frock. It's all the same to him. With a fanatical fire in his eye he bends earnestly over, expounding, explaining his way of running a motor boat, or his views on women's clothes, or his scheme for making mouse-skin muffs.
He-and of course this means she, toodoesn't consider whether the other fellow is interested or not. He must have an audience, not necessarily a group, preferably not, for he likes to enter quietly and thoroughly into the weeniest details, and one listener is the most satisfactory. Oblivious to the lively strains of a fox-trot, he lectures on. No one likes to interrupt and ask his audience for a dance, and naturally he doesn't dance, either.
As you can see, a buttonholer is out of place at a party, unless he'll stop buttonholing. Suppose there were ten buttonholers present. Horrors!
Another unpopular person is the old-fashioned wet-blanketer-more recently known as the person who's always taking the joy out of life.
You mention your adorable little Wang, the darlingest Peke that ever wagged, and he (or she) asks if it isn't awfully fussy about what it eats.
You repeat a pleasant compliment and the joy-killer twists it into an insult. You speak of So-and-So's new Budson car, and Miss or Mr. Joy-Swatter wonders if it wasn't picked up second-hand somewhere. "Miss So-and-So has lovely color tonight," you remark, but Mr. Joy-Killer assures you that she's merely a little luckier with the rouge tonight.
In fact, by the time you're through talking, you, too, begin to see only the specks in the apple.
Take several persons looking through blue goggles, and the party begins to seem like the night before exams.
A first cousin once removed to Wet-Blanketer is the Social Icicle.
You open up impulsively on a little description of that time in the subway when it stopped so suddenly and threw you back into a strange man's lap. You watch the Icicle's face frosting over gradually, and by the same degrees your tongue comes stiffly to a stop.
It isn't easy to be funny when you're being frozen to death.
You try again-you mention the delightful music at last week's festival. Possibly the Icicle isn't musical-anyway, your words awaken no return fire. A cold smile, which chills you, leaves you helpless to begin another topic.
You find you cannot be merry with an icicle, and as parties generally call for the ingredient of merriment, the icicle is a dreadful handicap for the hostess.
Still another in the handicap class is the Social Heavyweight. He or she hasn't a light word in his or her vocabulary. Every word falls like a ton of lead. And the Heavyweight's conversational opponent must spryly drag him along like an active little ant trying to manage a clumsy caterpillar.
The worst of it is none of these party-killers are hopeless. If they'd use their wits and see what was demanded of them by the circumstances, every one of them could be one of those ideal guests, responsive and enthusiastic, whom the hostess loves to invite because they make her party go.
Don't be the tack that punctures anybody's party.
As a matter of fact, conversation plays an important part in making most social affairs go off smoothly. While hard and fast rules cannot be laid down, there are certain suggestions worth considering:
In the first place, avoid any topic which would bring in an unpleasant atmosphere by causing disagreeable argument or by making anyone uncomfortable or hurting someone's feelings.
Don't talk too much. So many people talk to get something off their minds and are indifferent as to whether the matter is of any interest to the listener.
It is a conversational error to prolong a topic till it is worn threadbare, probably because no one knows how to switch the conversation, or because someone else is bound not to let the topic be changed.
The tact and ability to turn a conversation is by no means natural to everybody, but has to be cultivated. Many a painful moment may be saved by the right word slipped in at the right time.
Some people make the mistake of talking too much because they don't know how to select-but repeat the whole of an incident in detail.
Failure to talk enough is quite as bad as talking too much.
There are three main reasons why people do not talk enough. The first is because they are diffident about drawing attention to themselves-they lack self-confidence. The only remedy for them is to force themselves to talk. The oftener they do it, the easier it will be.
The second class of people is lacking in resources. They aren't afraid of their own voices, but they don't know what to say. They are not quick to think of a reply. So, by confining themselves to "yes" and "no" they are deadweights for conversational purposes. The remedy for them is to put some thought on the matter. If they think hard enough something will suggest itself. They may even prime themselves beforehand with possible topics.
The third class of non-conversationalists is inexcusable. To it belong the conversationally lazy. It is too much trouble to keep the ball rolling. They refuse to take the slightest responsibility.
At the expense of being called a chatter-box, it is worth while to know how to "make conversation"-small talk, as it is called.
And remember, a very important rule for being a successful talker is to keep in mind the other fellow's point of view. You are likely then to interest him, and if you interest him he is having a good time.