A good talker in a company can produce a variety of conversation without confusion; lead the minds of the company to evolve new ideas, and bring out the best in his or her neighbor without catechizing or contradicting. The great attraction in conversation is sincerity; a sincere word was never utterly lost, but comes back to do good in wholly unexpected and unthought of ways. Conversation is an accomplishment difficult to master, and there is probably no instrument which is used so imperfectly as the human tongue. Every one of us has our acquaintances with whom talking is a delight, who can draw us out and enable us always to be at our best, while there are others who act as a brake on conversation; in spite of our every effort, while in their company, talk is halting, language clumsy and the tongue unable to meet the demands made upon it.
The art of conversation should be taught to every child. The first and most essential rule is that one must be a first-rate listener, who appears mainly to be interested in the conversation about him or her; able by tact and judgment to put in the right word at the right moment, and, without interrupting the flow of ideas, to assist the progress of conversation. The worst plague of society is the inexhaustible verbosity of the brainless babbler, who talks without thought. Anybody can argue, only a few can converse. The use of the voice and manner of speech in conversation are of first importance, as they are the truest indication of education and refinement, and betray the absence of this quality with painful directness.
Conversation is raised in character in its ratio to the lack of personalities it contains and which should be avoided like poison. Keep away from the discussion of living persons, and especially of near persons. Personalities are a form of scandal-mongering, resulting in uncharitableness and injury, evidencing extreme poverty of intellectual resources. Random shots are dangerous and cruel and most frequently likely to hit the wrong person. The great secret of succeeding in conversation is to admire much, to hear much; to encourage others to do their best; to listen to what is said; never to go out of the way to lug in a fine word or phrase, and when the occasion comes, to make talk interesting, because of the originality of the central idea which serves as a pivot, and the fitness of the illustration, which illuminates the talk.
To become a good talker no physical condition is necessary; stammerers have been most agreeable conversationalists. Not everybody can scintillate and amuse, for to excel in this is a gift of God. The majority are obliged, therefore, to depend on knowledge of current facts and events to keep up their end of the conversation, which requires study and application, but it is study which will be well repaid. Many a man and woman who has succeeded in life, can attribute their success to an agreeable way of putting things. It is only the fool who is troublesome in company. A man or woman of sense can soon see whether their talk is agreeable or tiresome and conclude any given topic, before it is talked out.
The student of history who seeks for the animating source of the great movements that have changed the boundary lines of nations and improved the social condition of man, knows that the inspiration has resulted from the conversations moving unknown underneath revolutions, battles, and dynasties, which play their part on the visible stage. The fugitive talks of these pioneers in retirement, at the bench and in forge and mill, who have shaped the policies of nations and decided the progress of the world. Those who are masters of conversation stand on a vantage ground of real service not only socially, but materially. A man who knows how to talk well and listen well will, all things being equal, get along faster than the man of equal ability, hesitating in speech and unable to express himself. The one thing everlastingly to be tabooed, is indecent conversation. “Immodest words admit of no defense. For want of decency is want of sense.” — From The Lost Art of Conversation, 1909
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