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Social Conversation

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Conversation is an art in which a man has all mankind for competition, for it is that which all are practicing every day while they live. EMERSON

OUR chief use of speech is in conversation. Through conversation we communicate with others, we form acquaintanceships and friendships, and consciously or unconsciously we form our opinions about our associates. As we judge others, so we, too, are constantly being judged by our conversation.

Apart from this serious aspect, good conversation is one of the most satisfying diversions in which we can engage. If you call to mind a social gathering that you particularly enjoyed, the chances are that it was an occasion when talk flowed freely, when there was an easy, friendly interchange of ideas. If one or two persons stand out in your memory as contributing most to the success of the gathering, it was probably not only because they said interesting things them-selves, but also because they stimulated the whole company, so that everyone seemed to be at his best. This happy faculty of holding the attention of one's hearers and drawing them out in turn is the secret of being a good conversationalist.

In order to differentiate between conversation and mere talking, we must first have clearly in mind what we mean by conversation. It isn't properly argument and it isn't public speaking, although it may contain some elements of each, as the chart on Page 59 clearly illustrates. Conversation consists of the informal exchange of ideas. The first syllable con means with, not at; two or more persons must exchange ideas in order to have conversation. When one person monopolizes a subject the conversation turns into a lecture; as soon as two or more persons proceed to argue at length, conversation is replaced by a debate or argument.

The purpose of conversation is quite different from that of public speaking or argument. Lecturing or public speaking should educate, whether it is done through humor, entertainment, or serious speech. We expect education when we pay to hear a noted lecturer, but we naturally resent the person who sets about educating us without our consent.

Much of the animation and sparkle of conversation is due to difference of opinion, but to permit a friendly exchange of opinions to become a heated debate is to ruin the conversation. You should express your ideas positively yet courteously, and permit others to do the same. Don't try to carry the argument through to a decision in your favor or you will arouse feelings of resentment and weariness, if not disgust.

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