Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Conversational Guidance

Here are some further excerpts from Ethel Cotton's Course on Conversation, Lesson No. 1:
Even though the subject may be of interest to the person who introduced it, unless the ideas presented will have value on the morrow for others in the group, it is a courtesy to change the conversation. Many people relish telling morbid details and reminiscing about disease and disaster. To a listener such subjects are valueless and depressing....

The Need of Tact. A great deal of tact is required in changing the topic which has been introduced. The conversation must be guided so diplomatically that the one who introduced the original subject will not realize it is being changed. You must not get the idea that changing the subject is to enable you to satisfy your own love of power. Neither must you allow anyone to feel that the topic under discussion is being dominated by one person. You must change the subject only when it is necessary for purely cultural purposes. Everyone, including the bore, will enjoy a conversation which does not leave him depressed, discouraged, or cynical.

A quick exchange of humorous experiences, as well as a serious discussion of any worth while subject by which you may clarify your thoughts, stimulates and inspires for many days to come. To lead the conversation gently into optimistic, thought-provoking channels calls for serious creative effort. You must devise such interruptions as may seem natural or unavoidable so as to entice the company into new paths....Tact, judgment, imagination, sympathy, an open mind and humor are all necessary....


1. No one should speak twice until others have spoken once, except to ask a question and "draw out" the silent members.

2. If a person joins a group where a conversation is being carried on, make the newcomer feel at ease by drawing him into the conversation.

3. When you join a group where a conversation is being carried on, allow the topic under discussion to be continued rather than introduce a new subject.

~ The Ethel Cotton Course in Conversation, Lesson No.1. Chicago: Conversation Studies, 1949, pp. 5-9

Here is an article about the art of making small talk from The Washington Post. Share