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In The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure, Catherine Blyth gives some great tips on handling the subtle nuances of polite interaction.
Here are seven of my favorite bits:
Whatever the context, old friends or new, it is best if speakers respect five principles:
- Put others at ease
- Put yourself at ease
- Weave in all parties
- Establish shared interests
- Actively pursue your own
Mastering the art of conversation has to start somewhere, so you have to know how to begin. Here’s a solid formula.
An effective introduction is small-ad brief, splicing in only two ingredients per person:
A (who they are) + B (why they are relevant)
The salient information is not so much formal title (royals, snobs, and servicemen excepted) as how you relate to one another or the event (housemate, client, mother-in-law, single male drafted in for ladies like you). Identify points of contact, charge people up, and you have a connection.
Research has found that with a serious topic or a good friend, we measure a conversation’s success by how enthralled we were by what the other person said. Whereas, the less familiar the other person, the more trivial the topic, the likelier we are to rate the experience by our own performance.
Discussion should enlarge by exploratory increments. Pace matters. Too neutral, too long, and you’ll both transmit beige personalities, but accelerate to war’s evils right away and her son will be a brigadier. Instead, use discreet hints to flush the other person out.
If in doubt, the stair to intimacy has four steps:
- Courtesies (“Hello, how are you?”)
- Trade information (“So what brought you here?”)
- Trade opinion (“Isn’t this music unusual?”)
- Trade feeling (“Yup, I hate it.”)
Pose questions that circle the personal, noting whether the other prefers a sharp or gentle approach, and adapting accordingly. And although small talk aims to please, don’t make this too obvious.
To help doctors be better listeners, their responses are graded from 1 to 6 with the “empathic communication coding system.”
The higher the number, the better.
6: Shared feeling/experience
5: Confirmation of an emotion’s legitimacy
4: Pursuit of the topic
2: Implicit recognition (but changing the topic)
1: Perfunctory recognition (autopilot)
There are a number of phrases that can politely signal the end of a chat.
Arrangements: Talk of the Next rings the knell for Now.
Any statement starting “Finally,” “Lastly”: Suggests an agenda is nigh complete.
Satisfied Customer: A labeling comment to convey a job has been ticked off the list, “Well, I just wanted to check everything was okay.”
Farewell by implication: Pre-goodbye goodbyes: passing regards to the wife, etc.
Past tense: To kill the Now without committing to future encounters, say “It was great seeing you again,” “This was fun.”
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near: That oh-so-pressing world you must be getting on with, or the missus will kill you, or the shops will have run out of Christmas trees, or the kids will be starving…
Mustn’t keep you: To suggest that you’re halting the other person’s day is polite…
I would love to continue with this post, but I wouldn’t want to keep you.
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