Manners Matter 13

Conversational Manners

By Ron Ross

Good conversations are fun to be a part of – unless someone is rude. Bad manners in conversation will stifle communication and short-circuit camaraderie. Here are a few simple guidelines for mutually satisfying conversations:


Share the floor. To talk endlessly about yourself or to dominate the conversation with sentence after sentence of your own wisdom may be satisfying to you but it is boring to those who listen. An older gentleman friend of mine had a date with a lady his age. He told me, “She never stopped talking. I know everything about her but she knows absolutely nothing about me.” He lost interest because she did not share the floor with him.

Don’t interrupt. When you are involved in a conversation, often you can hardly wait to make your point. You want to interrupt but it is more mannerly to wait your turn.

Look at the speaker. The key to great conversation is not how well you talk but how well you listen. A great way to show interest in the other person is to maintain eye contact with them as they speak. It is a way to say, “I’m interested in you and what you are saying.” To gaze around the room, check your watch, or read a text from your mate is impolite.

Make your topic of conversation appropriate. Make sure your topic of conversation is appropriate to those involved and appropriate to the occasion. Politics, religion, and sex are all appropriate topics of conversation as long as they are discussed in appropriate ways and at appropriate times. A good argument may be great for a guys’ night out but inappropriate for dinner party, Rotary Club meeting or Bible Study.

Think before you speak. Avoid foot-in-mouth moments by using questions instead of declarations. It is easy to say, “Our governor is a moron. Did you see his latest budget?” But it is safer and more polite to query not declare. You could ask, “What do you think of the governor’s new budget?” This way you will listen first and then the time will come for you to give a thoughtful and intelligent response.

Don’t one-up the others. I have been in many conversations where each speaker tries to impress the audience with their stories. “Last year when I was in Miami…” could be followed by another speaker who says, “That reminds me of when I was in Rome last month…” which could be followed by someone else saying, “When I was on safari in Africa…” One-uppers make annoying conversationalists.

Don’t over-share. Don’t dump your personal garbage on others within the first two minutes of conversation. “How are you?” is a greeting not an invitation to therapy. Constant unburdening of bad luck makes you sound desperate. You are better off to share bits and pieces of your dramatic life – it creates a little mystery and intrigue and makes you interesting – not needy.

Drop phony affectations. Use words you have used before. Talk about things you are comfortable with. Be your pleasant charming self, first, last and always.

When it comes to pleasant conversation with nice people, manners matter.

©2016 Ronald D. Ross

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