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What To Avoid In Conversation

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Because there are so many things that can spoil a conversation, we shall consider first some of the faults that should be avoided.

Don't Be a Monologist

It has been said that good conversation is like tennis rather than like golf. In tennis we receive and serve, returning ball for ball; in golf, each person keeps his own little ball rolling. True conversation is like tennis, with one exception. In tennis you serve as difficult a ball as possible, whereas in conversation you must make it easy for anyone to reply.

Be a good listener—that is, wait for the other person to serve the ball to you. In the game of tennis it would be absurd for both sides to be serving at the same time. It is absurd in the game of conversation also.

Give and receive. If the other person serves you a good ball, return it with all the precision and intelligence that you can summon and keep alert for the next ball. It is poor sportsmanship to lose your temper in a game; likewise, it is poor sportsman-ship to lose your temper in conversation.

A Monologue Isn't Conversation

We all know the bore who seldom asks a question, and if he does ask one, doesn't wait for an answer but hurries on with his own ideas. If you venture a remark, he either interrupts you or pays no attention to what you say. Such a person is interested in himself only and he lacks both common sense and courtesy.

You recall the old saying, "A man has two ears and but one mouth, to teach him that he should hear twice as much as he should talk." If you have any inclination to monopolize conversation, paste this maxim on your mirror and memorize it so that it automatically confronts you every time you find yourself talking too much.

It is a good plan to say to yourself during a conversation, "Should I be interested if someone else were telling about himself what I am telling about myself?" If your common sense answers, "No," then you should immediately draw others into the conversation and let them do the talking for a while. Don't assume that because people seem to be listening to you, they are interested. They may be only polite or they may be thinking of something else. Don't wait for yawns or bored looks before you relinquish the conversation to someone else. As one wise father said to his son, "Give others as well as yourself credit for knowing something, and remember that even if you talk well you mustn't monopolize a conversation, as very few persons care to be eclipsed by a brilliant conversationalist."

Don't Be a Passive Listener

When a celebrated person or a guest of honor is in your group, it is courteous and often profitable to remain silent, but ordinarily complete silence is as poor a contribution to conversation as talking incessantly. The active listener, how-ever, often contributes much to a conversation through the stimulus he gives the speaker.

The person who is not talking, obviously must be either listening or not paying attention. Failing to attend to what another is saying is, of course, the rankest rudeness. Only a degree less discourteous is listening in a listless, half-hearted manner and permitting your glance to wander from the speaker. Listening, to be worthy of the name, must be active. It consists of genuine interest in the speaker and his subject, manifested in an alert manner and concentrated attention on the speaker and what he is saying.

Some persons listen with ill-concealed impatience for an opportunity to tell their ideas. Others pretend to listen, but in reality are absorbed in what they are going to say next.

Then there is the person who interrupts, either to change the subject or to finish the speaker's remark for him. All are discourteous. The person who jumps into the middle of your sentence and completes it for you may feel that his agility of thought is to be commended, but in reality he is implying, "You certainly are slow. I can finish your sentences better and more quickly than you can."

All these types are unpopular because they do not know how to listen. What shall you do if the subject under discussion is of no interest to you? Listen courteously until the speaker has finished. Then, if it appears that others in the group are not particularly interested, you may, through an adroit question or observation, direct attention to something of more general interest.

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