The Art of Conversation

“The first ingredient in conversation is truth, the next good sense, the third good humour, and the fourth wit.”

– Sir William Temple (an English Baronet)

I’m not a good conversationalist.

Sure, I can discuss and introduce myself in a social setting. But, you know what I actually mean; I’m not one who ‘makes everyone laugh.’ I have no talent for introducing engaging topics or bringing friends together or putting  delicate subjects to rest discreetly.

I enter most conversations fascinated by whomever is across from me but underlyingly nervous by way of introversion. I’m frustrated by the fact that I often speak rashly, get lost in the details of my own stories, forget the name of an important person/object essential to telling such-said stories, or ask questions which come out as statements of fact with inflection (ie, “so I hear you like your job … ?”).

I’m not fascinated by myself, but some unconscious urge causes me to fill silence with inane opinions.

I come away from meetings with friends wishing I had LISTENED MORE, talked less. Do you ever feel this way? It makes me frustrated.

I’ve been thinking about how to be a good conversationalist recently because coffee or dinner with an old friend (or new coworker) has taken on more importance in my solitude-filled days.

I’m unashamed that I have high standards for others’ conversation (and low-tolerance for even a whiff of self-centeredness). I gravitate toward friends who are intellectually thoughtful, wise, and who speak truth. I’m not fond of wit or crude banter.

Yet, it’s so ironic to me, I find myself contriving to induce laughs just to move conversation along.

I’m making an effort to be more present (and not often succeeding). I want to know more about my friends, more about strangers, more about all people (do you think I’m idealistic? I’m not sorry)! I want to be aware of the moment when my dialogue is not getting at a truth (or getting to know a person/LISTENING). I’m striving for (thanks, counseling class!): Mindfulness. Counting to five during a pause or silence is my strategy this week. Even if that’s awkward – it’s important to me that I learn ABOUT others.

How do you remind yourself to listen more? How do you stop yourself from trying to fill the silence with inadequate prattle?

“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 etiquette author)


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