I felt it shelter to speak with you.
~ Emily Dickinson
[The art of conversation] is the Swiss Army knife
of social skills that anyone can learn to use. p.1
Sometimes we need to sustain a conversation with strangers, acquaintances, or friends of friends. When I served on Grand Jury for two months we had hours of in-between time where we had the choice of looking down and doodling or looking up at a fellow juror and launching a conversation.
Shepherd’s book would have been a blessing. Most of it is common sense clearly explained. I tried to read it looking for me and my weaknesses (rambling, interruptions) rather than identify people I know in the author’s descriptions. She introduces some great phrases: conversation kindling, verbal tics, rapport vs. report. Since we all blunder, Shepherd tells us how to recover from them.
~ It is courteous to stand up for an introduction.
~ Order of introductions: first say name of the lady,
the elder, the honored person.
[By mixing these I made the mnemonic acronym HELP. ]
~ Think of talk as a good game of Frisbee. Toss it to someone else.
1. Tell the truth.
2. Don’t ramble.
3. Don’t interrupt.
4. Ask questions and listen to the answers.
5. Don’t take advantage of people.
6. Don’t dwell on appearances.
7. Don’t touch taboo subjects.
8. Disagree in a civilized fashion.
9. Don’t be a bore.
10. Don’t gossip.
Five Fail-Safe Starters
1. The journey. Are you from here? How did you get here?
2. The recent past. What have you been working on?
3. Situation you share now. How do you know ___?
4. Companions. Do you have family* nearby?
5. Return questions. Ask her what she just asked you.
I wish you would read a little poetry sometimes.
Your ignorance cramps my conversation.
~ Sir Anthony Hopkins
Whether small talk makes you hum or gives your hives, I recommend this little book. I also recommend Margaret Shepherd’s other book, The Art of the Handwritten Note.
*Shepherd makes a point of using the word family. While people may not have a spouse or children, everyone, presumably, has family.