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The gentle art of conversation

Yogi Berra famously said, “It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.”

Even though conversation is supposed to be a mutual give and take, it is often too much take and too little give.

Do you recognize yourself in one of these conversational bad guys?

The Boor: He goes on and on about pet subjects no one wants to listen to and doesn’t realize he is monopolizing the conversation.

The Braggart: She loves to tell you about her latest purchases, how much money she makes, what kind of car she drives.

It doesn’t matter if you’re toothless and living in a box, she’ll still let you know about the great deal she got on her new Mercedes with heated seats.

The Proud Parent: Usually a mother, this conversation type can’t stop talking about what her kids have been up to, and it’s always good.

The high grades, the cheerleading awards, the football scholarship, the Super Reader award in Mrs. Miller’s first grade class – she’ll let you hear about all of it all the time.

The Interrupter: Just try to get a word in edgewise with this talker. Start a thought and watch the Interrupter not only finish it but take it down a new road altogether.

The One-Upper: Go to Big Bear for skiing? She went to Aspen. Have a sore throat? He has cancer. No matter what, the One-Upper has got it better or worse than you.

The Intimidator: This person enjoys confronting people with his on-the-edge thinking.

If you’re a Democrat, he’ll call you a granola-eating bleeding heart. If you’re a Republican you’ll get his famous “gun-loving racist” epithet hurled your way.

No matter what, you’re an idiot and he’s not.

Good conversation skills can bring us closer to people, open doors for business opportunities we may not otherwise have had and provide hours of enjoyment with people, but there are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:

1. Listen. When the other person is talking, it’s tempting to think of what we want to say in reply, but a good conversationalist listens without mentally composing an answer.

2. Ask questions. Instead of jumping into the fray with your own observations and ideas, ask the last speaker questions related to what she has just said.

We all love to be asked about ourselves because it makes us feel that someone is paying attention to us and we are special.

Asking questions in a conversation makes the other person feel much more amiable to us than if we merely move on to something else.

3. Don’t brag. About anything.

Don’t talk about dropping three dress sizes in front of overweight people. Don’t brag about the raise you got, because for all you know, there could be unemployed people who just got laid off there.

If someone asks a specific question such as “My God, Jennifer, you look like a Victoria Secret’s model! How do you do it?!” then you can ’fess up about the lipo/Botox/hair extensions/Diet Coke addiction.

Otherwise, keep it to yourself.

4. Make eye contact. Don’t look around at other people because it looks like you’re trying to find an escape route.

5. On the other hand, if the person you are talking to keeps looking around, he is probably trying to find an escape route. It might be a good idea to either try step 2 or wrap things up and move on.

6. The old saw about staying away from religion and politics is still a good one.

If you know the person you are talking to shares your religious or political opinions, it is probably safe to expound on your personal philosophies.

If, however, you are not sure what the other people in the general area are into, or you know but are on a different side of the fence, stick to the weather and general gardening tips.

And don’t talk trash about someone’s favorite team. It never ends well.

7. When it’s time for the conversation to come to an end, you can say, “It was nice talking to you,” or “I really enjoyed our conversation,” rather than just abruptly ending the talking and taking off.

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