Friday, February 15, 2008

Getting Acquainted

Lesson No. 2 of the Ethel Cotton Course in Conversation explores how to cultivate new acquaintances in a party setting. Much of the suggestions remind me of how Carmelite nuns are taught to behave at recreation. Recreation can be a time for practicing little mortifications and self-discipline, by listening to others and talking about topics which may not be of personal interest. Here are a few excerpts:
If you go to a gathering in the right mental attitude, keeping your mind alert to the mood and reactions of each person, you can almost immediately discover the subjects in which people are interested.

First Principle: Use ideas suggested by the occasion. Consider the affair itself, the person who is being honored, the activities of the club whose new home is being dedicated, the unusual decorations or any unique feature associated with the occasion. Then try to find links for association of ideas. Mutual friends, places which several have visited, similar business interests are all good topics.

Usually elderly people enjoy reminiscences while young people like to discuss their plans for the future. Perhaps middle aged people may be classed as old or young in spirit, depending upon whether the past or the future is their greatest interest. Discuss the "old days" or the "marvelous future" and watch the reactions of your friends. In this way you will learn much of their attitude toward life.

Since, however, every gathering does not of itself inspire ideas, you must have something more definite to rely upon.

Keep Your Mind Adaptable

Don't go to any affair with a set plan in mind as to what subjects you will talk about. Be prepared in a general, not in a specific, way. Remember that no rules fit all occasions. Nothing is more deadly to spontaneity than following a set plan at all gatherings. Cultivate the ability to "sense" the moods of the people around you. Try to fit in with the spirit of the affair. If the people you meet are philosophical and serious, don't be flippant -- try to recall ideas of a similar character. If your friends are hilarious, try at least to be jovial and enter into the spirit of gaiety. Remember Kipling's adage, "Don't look too good, or talk to wise." Above all, don't create a negative atmosphere by making obvious, trite, or depressing statements. Encourage others to express their opinions. Make them feel that their viewpoint is worth considering. You please most people when you ask for an opinion. You indirectly compliment your friend when you ask his advice.

If you are well-acquainted with every member of the group, you know their interests. Then you can immediately introduce a subject with which they are familiar and which they will enjoy discussing. If, however, you are not well acquainted with the people present, you must diplomatically find their interests by asking questions or listening to casual remarks....

Refer to any local happening of current interest, and, by the remarks which follow, you will learn who is informed and interested in current events.

~ The Ethel Cotton Course in Conversation, Lesson No.2. Chicago: Conversation Studies, 1949, pp. 1-3