Karina Chronicles

Three Tips For Perfecting The Lost Art Of Conversation

Crystal Hammon is a vintage fashion enthusiast who blogs at Dressed Her Days Vintage. When she isn’t working as a writer, she teaches yoga, plays golf, sews and reads. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Martine's book cover
Crystal Hammon is a vintage fashion enthusiast who blogs at Dressed Her Days Vintage. When she isn’t working as a writer, she teaches yoga, plays golf, sews and reads. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Alone together. That’s how many of us spend our time now. It may look like I’m sitting in the same room with my husband when I’m actually visiting my blogger friend in Seattle.

Facebook and Twitter are great for checking in and touching base, but they aren’t as satisfying as a real conversation. If they were, there wouldn’t be quite so many people who feel alone, depressed and unheard.

Deep down, we all crave connection, but we settle for something less because technology—with  all its possibilities for communicating—has robbed us of the one thing we need to have real conversations: attention. Somewhere along the way, we lost the art of looking into each other eyes, discussing ideas and listening, which makes us even lonelier than we were before we had all those Twitter followers.

The problem is that we’re out of practice. Where can we turn for pointers? Backwards in time, of course! Here are three ideas for reviving your conversational skills, gleaned from Martine’s Handbook of Etiquette and Guide to True Politeness, first published in 1866.

Choose your subjects with everyone in mind. The idea of conversation is to discuss topics of the greatest universal interest. Greet every opportunity for conversation with a promising short list of possibilities for casual discussion. Literature, art and hobbies are excellent starters.

The result, according to Martine, should be something this: “It is the gift of expressing thoughts and fancies in a quick, brilliant and graceful manner on such topics—of striking out new ideas, eliciting the views and opinions of others, of attaching the interest of all to the subject discussed, giving it, however trifling in itself, weight and importance in the estimation of the hearers, that constitutes the great talent for conversation.

Skilled silence is one of the prerequisites of a good conversation. Solicit opinions. Ask about the thought behind them. Then shut up and show genuine interest. We often worry about what we will say in a conversation, but Martine’s timeless advice runs counter to that.

The silence that, without any deferential air, listens with polite attention, is more flattering than compliments, and more frequently broken for the purpose of encouraging others to speak, than to display the listener’s own powers. It requires great genius—more perhaps than speaking—and few are gifted with the talent, but it is of such essential advantage that I must recommend its study to all who are desirous to take a share in conversation, and beg that they learn to be silent before they attempt to speak.

Turn outward. Be ready to move a conversation along. Even when it’s going well, you must be ready to pivot to another topic with grace. Talking ad nauseam about the same subject, discussing things that are too controversial (think politics) or too personal (think medical issues), or speaking about yourself, your family and your things, wears out quickly and kills the opportunity to draw on the interests of others. Challenge yourself to look more like Martine’s ideal conversationalist:

The great charm of conversation consists less in the display of one’s own wit and intelligence than in the power to draw forth the resources of others. He who leaves you after a long conversation, pleased with himself and the part he has taken in the discourse, will be your warmest admirer.”

Cultivate your skills of conversation. Practice with your own family by setting aside device-free times. Join book discussion groups and special interest groups where you can polish skills necessary for resurrecting the lost art of conversation in modern life.

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