On the Art of Civilized Conversation

Art. Civility. Conversation. Three of my favorite words. Respected, talking story words.

Here are a few excerpts from a book from Margaret Shepherd, all from her Introduction within The Art of Civilized Conversation; A Guide to Expressing Yourself with Style and Grace:

One person walks into a café, sits down to a cup of coffee in silence, finishes it, and goes back to the same old day. Two other people walk into that café, sit down to two cups of coffee, have a good talk – and go on their way with fresh energy, comfort, and insight. Simply by connecting them, conversation has changed them. And that’s the definition of art. Civilized conversation is an art that transforms everyday life into something richer. It can engage your mind, excite your imagination, and expand your view of the world.

…civilized conversation is the Swiss Army knife of social skills that anyone can learn to use. Take it with you wherever you go, and you’ll be equipped to turn a seatmate into a confidant, an interviewer into an employer, and an acquaintance into a friend. As an accomplished conversationalist, you’ll be welcomed everywhere; everyone loves a good conversation because it is FUN.

…conversation lets you be an artist every time you open your mouth – or shut it. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “The most important art is to omit:” the key to being a master conversationalist is to listen as much as you talk. Just as the other arts include pauses in a dramatic play, white margins around printed text, and space between a singer’s phrases, conversation is about silences as well as about words.

…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, contradicting, grandstanding, or interrupting. It does not require a referee. It is most surely not what people hear on may television and radio talk shows: that is performance art of particular emptiness, and the worst example of how to converse.

…good conversation rarely occurs when one party is not paying reasonable attention. In fact, courtesy is crucial to the very existence of a civilized exchange. By that I don’t mean that you must always trot out the proper protocol or the perfect words, but you must connect somehow with the other person.

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