For a profession dominated by the aloof and introverted – conversation is less about talent and more about craft, art, and practice. In the book The Art of Civilized Conversation: A Guide to Expressing Yourself with Style and Grace (2004), author Margaret Shepherd makes the following points:
“Conversation lets you be an artist every time you open your mouth – or shut it. As Robert Stevenson said, “The most important art is to omit”; the key to being a master conversationalist is to listen at least as much as you talk. Just as the other arts include pauses in dramatic play, white margins around the printed text, and space between a singer’s phases, conversation is about silences as well as about words.
In addition to listening well, the other simple principles of civilized conversation – don’t ramble, don’t gossip, don’t bore, and disagree carefully – are not arbitrary demands of etiquette; rather, they are based on caring about yourself and about others. Etiquette and manners are not out-of-date rules. Instead they are generally accepted guidelines for making everyone comfortable enough to connect.
Good conversation is classy, humane, practical, universal, and when well done, seemingly effortless. It can also be defined by what it is not – civilized conversation is not the same as reciting, confessing, negotiating, scolding, or interviewing. It does not involve notifying, debating, or issuing orders, nor does it include baiting, shouting, hurling personal insults, contracting, grandstanding, or interrupting. It does not require a referee. It is most surely not what people hear on many television and radio talk shows: that is performance art of particular emptiness, and worst example of how to converse.”
Shepherd further defines her ten rules for civilized conversation:
- Tell the Truth
- Don't Ramble
- Don't Interrupt
- Ask Questions and Listen to the Answers
- Don't Take Advantage of People
- Don't Dwell on Appearances
- Don't Touch Taboo Topics
- Disagree in a Civilized Fashion
- Don't Be a Bore
- Don't Gossip