The Lost Art of Conversation

Life Changing Discussions. Think back to a time you had a life-changing discussion. Who was it with? Where was it? How did it make you feel? That’s the power of great conversation.

Conversation offers infinite possibilities. It is great for polishing thoughts and generating new ones. It is unbeatable for beating the blues or forging friendships. The ultimate bond of all personal relationships – whether in business, friendship or marriage – is conversation.

Society provides lavish rewards to those who express themselves well. (Studies show that no single factor better predicts your future income than the size of your vocabulary.) Good talkers routinely ace the interview, get the contract, close the deal, win the girl. Get on with others and you will get on in life – and enjoy it more.

There is a widespread misconception that the best conversationalists are the smoothest talkers. Conversation is not meant to be a performance art or a competition, but an opportunity for mutual appreciation. And the best conversationalists are not the best talkers. They are the best listeners.

Never speak of yourself to others; make them talk about themselves instead. Therein lies the whole art of pleasing. Everyone knows it and everyone forgets it.
– Edmond de Goncourt

The great gift of conversation lies less in displaying it ourselves than in drawing it out in others. He who leaves your company pleased with himself and his own cleverness is perfectly well pleased with you.
– Jean de la Bruyere

A gossip is one who talks to you about others; a bore is one who talks to you about himself; and a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you about yourself.
– Lisa Kirk

It only takes a bit of curiosity. The idea is to find out more about the other person’s attitudes, interests, nature and disposition. For too many, however, a verbal exchange is not talking and listening but rather talking and waiting to talk again. You don’t learn much that way. Or score many points.

Some insist they are poor conversationalists because they are introverted or tongue-tied. In some cases, that may be true. But those who struggle may be trying too hard to say the right thing. Far more important is not succumbing to the temptation to say the wrong thing.

Good conversation is about drawing out the other, not delivering a monologue or a position statement. The truth is we are seldom better than our conversation. What you choose to talk about – and how you choose to say it – lays you bare.

That doesn’t mean your conversation needs to be sparkling and original. Nor does it need to have a purpose or a point. Quite the opposite, in fact. The best conversations ramble. They have no pre-destination. It is all about the rhythm and flow.

In sum, good conversation is one of life’s most accessible pleasures. It connects us to one another, forges friendships, increases social esteem, raises our mood, generates goodwill, enhances our information and completes our education. And while prices rise and time shrinks, it is a luxury that remains free to us all.

True, conversation won’t make you richer, thinner, or save your life. But it may save your marriage. As Charles Dickens said, “Never close your lips to those whom you have opened your heart.”

Source: Alex Green, “The Secret of Shelter Island: Money and What Matters”

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