The Lost Art of Conversation

“To chatter is easy. To talk resultfully with the hostile, suspicious, indifferent or even friendly, is an art.” Notes from The Art of Conversation by Milton Wright, 1936

A short time ago, my older daughter and I spoke of some of the words which have become very common in everyday speak. She used, as an example, one of her acquaintances who inserts the word “like” in front of every other word. I agreed that it was annoying, as are “actually”, “basically”, “totally”, etc. She quipped that she thought it was to give the girl’s brain time to catch up with her mouth. She hypothesizes that people use such words in conversation when they don’t know what else to say — as a pause, so to speak, while they think of their next line. Right or wrong, it led to a discussion about the art of conversation which we both agreed is lost to most people.

Small talk and chatter have taken the place of thoughtful discussion. With e-mail and text messages available to a huge percentage of the population, we’re used to, and expect, quick responses. In many homes, out of necessity, both parents work. The family supper hour has moved from a gathering around the dining room table to couches, bedrooms, and eating on the run. Families don’t talk like they used to; everyone is in a rush. People don’t listen to each other and conversations often come to us in short bursts or garbled chunks. We are distracted by cell phones and iPods. It’s not that people don’t care — we just don’t bother.

Imagine how people interacted a century ago. Without television, internet, or even electricity, when the sun dipped below the horizon, there was nothing to do to pass an evening BUT talk. With only the creak of a chair or the crackle of a fire breaking the silence, there must have been hours of wonderful, unbroken conversation about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. Mind you, I’m not necessarily hinting that I’d want to go back to that way of life, though sometimes I think my soul seeks it, but how invigorating it would be to have that sort of connection with people.

Conversation teaches us about people. It is how we learn others’ likes and dislikes, interests, who they are. It is an exchange of information. Good conversation must be two-sided — there must be a listener and a speaker. Often, we hear, but we’re not always listening. We argue, then tally our scars to see who comes out on top, but that’s not conversation. Discussion is thoughtful. You must share something of yourself and be challenged. You must interpret facial expressions and intonations of the voice. Face-to-face conversation forces you to show interest in others’ thoughts and words.

We need to take the time to converse with others before the art of conversation goes the way of letter writing and good penmanship. In hectic and stressed times, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I believe one could turn things around with little effort. Turn the cell phone off and enjoy a coffee with someone. Aim for just one night a week when your family will gather round a table for supper. Conversation is a gift that benefits everyone.

I think it’s, like, totally doable.

[photo © Jurek Durczak]

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Author: nancybond

A writer, photographer, naturalist from small town Nova Scotia, Canada.

12 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Conversation”

  1. Nancy, I have great appreciation for your post. For several years I have been troubled by this lost art. I suspect that conversation etiquette has not been taught for a long time. I was taught not to speak if someone else was speaking, but now when I try to say something other people butt in and take over in such a rude way. I have one friend who has good conversation manners. It is a joy to visit with her.

  2. This was so true and we do need to stop, take a breath, enjoy the conversation and the journey.

    Nancy, Thanks for your kind comments about my blog… Deb

  3. Well…I tend to say well way to much. I’m trying to stop using that filler word. So… which word will take its place I wonder.

    While growing up the TV was always on, there was never conversation. I dislike TV and rarely ever watch it because of that.

    I think relationships are more shallow because of the lack of conversational art too. It’s very difficult to get to a level of comfortable intimacy with casual friends.

    Great thought provoking post!

  4. The title of this post is like so totally ironic with the basic title of your blog. I have never been a great conversationalist, as I always allowed my sisters to converse with others while I just listened. I wish I had made the effort as a child, because now I find I lack the gift of gab. Small talk is torture, but I have no problem with conversations on topics that interest me, such as politics, religion, gardening, music, films & travel. I try always to remember that Dale Carnegie rule – “talk in terms of the other person’s interests.”

  5. I had a dear old friend who died a few years ago. She refused the computer and emailing. She said specifically that she much preferred seeing people’s faces as they spoke, so she could decide if everything was in fact okay. I miss her so. She died in my arms on May 2, 2006.
    Brenda

  6. Thoughtful post. It would be so nice to see you in person and have tea and talk about art, books, photography, flowers and such. Not only is conversation lost, so is letter writing. Maybe we could do that? Real letters on real paper. Going to the mailbox!

    I uploaded some photos of the snow.

  7. Nancy, so glad you posted this. It’s so true for most people isn’t it? I’m so fortunate, especially living in such an isolated area that my husband and I have generous conversations each day. We begin every morning with half an hour to an hour sitting with our coffee, talking about this and that (and not the weather!). I still miss more conversation with other people though, but that’s because I live so far from people. This job I’m doing is great because it allows me vast opportunities for conversation — what an excellent post and thank you.

    Diane

  8. Nancy,

    I have to say this essay is spot on…most people don’t know how to listen and there ends a conversation and with it real intimacy.

    Thank you for a good read.

    Gail

  9. We are battling the “like” inserts with our 13-year-old right now. The other night he asked, “Can I have, like, a fork?” My husband handed him and spoon and said, “It’s like a fork instead of an actual fork.”

    I think I just babble and don’t really say too much.

  10. Hi, Nancy,
    For our family, shared experiences, such as playing board games together, or going out for a special coffee, are helps to conversation. I have also found that going to the high school sporting events is an aid to conversation with my high school girls (and even with my husband, because we enjoy watching the games together).

    At our church, we place an emphasis on getting to know one another, and showing hospitality to one another. In this way, the “ice” is broken, and meaningful conversation can begin.

    I, like, really enjoyed your post. :P

  11. I learned again today “Seek first to understand rather than be understood” – one of the 7 habits of Highly Effective People – S.R. Covey

  12. I learned today – “Seek First to understand rather than be understood” – one of the “7 habits of highly effective people” by S. R. Covey.

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