Sunday, September 28, 2008

Curious about Conversation: Is Yours Meaningful? How Can We Break the Conversation Barrier?

Lettuce is like conversation; it must be fresh and crisp, so sparkling that you scarcely notice the bitter in it.” - Charles Dudley Warner, American journalist

True happiness arises, in the first place, from the enjoyment of one's self, and in the next, from the friendship and conversation of a few select companions.” - Joseph Addison, English writer

I chose “conversation” for this week’s theme, because I am re-reading – for the umpteenth time - Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People. In his section on “Six Ways to Make People Like You” he delves into Principle 4, which is “Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.”

Because Carnegie practiced this Principle, he was known to be an excellent conversationalist. Several years ago I taught a class called “Breaking the Conversation Barrier” to people who were looking to feel more comfortable when interacting with others. I made use of “Talk It Up” cards that contained open ended questions that could be used to spark conversation. Open ended questions encourage others to talk about themselves and their interests.

Be sure to sincerely listen. It works like magic, and you will be amazed by how much you will learn about that person and his or her interests.

When searching for quotations to share with you, I found a great variety of approaches. And many with a touch of humor.

Let’s start with the more general thoughts:
  • A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet
  • Conversation would be vastly improved by the constant use of four simple words: ‘I do not know.’” - Andre Maurois, French writer
  • You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” – Plato, Greek philosopher
  • The reason why so few people are agreeable in conversation is that each is thinking more about what he intends to say than others are saying.” - Francois de La Rochefoucauld, French writer
  • Ideal conversation must be an exchange of thought, and not, as many of those who worry most about their shortcomings believe, an eloquent exhibition of wit or oratory.” - Emily Post, American author
  • In conversation, humor is worth more than wit and easiness more than knowledge.” - George Herbert, British poet

And, now some with a bit of a negative and/or humorous tone:

  • The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” - Winston Churchill, English statesman
  • She had lost the art of conversation but not, unfortunately, the power of speech.” - George Bernard Shaw, Irish dramatist
  • I just use my muscles as a conversation piece, like someone walking a cheetah down 42nd Street.” - Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austrian actor
  • People say conversation is a lost art; how often I have wished it were.” - Edward R. Murrow, American journalist
  • It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.” - Yogi Berra, American athlete
  • Don't knock the weather; nine-tenths of the people couldn't start a conversation if it didn't change once in a while.” - Kin Hubbard, American journalist
  • Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” - Oscar Wilde, Irish dramatist

And, a couple I particularly like:

The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.” - Rene Descartes, French mathematician

The happiest conversation is that of which nothing is distinctly remembered, but a general effect of pleasing impression.” - Samuel Johnson, English author

My advice to you is to start enjoying good conversation by asking thoughtful questions and listening with attention to the answers. Have fun “talking it up!” And send me some of your best questions.