THE ART OF
- Prof. M.R.Sethi
IN our day-to-day life we have to converse a lot with
others. Yet very few of us seem to know that conversation is also an art. It is said that
a man is known by two things: dress and address. Next to the way a man is dressed, it is
conversation that reveals his personality. Bruce Barton says: 'For good or bad your
conversation is your advertisement. Every time you open your mouth, you let others look
into your mind.' Conversation is very necessary for the daily intercourse of life. It
warms the mind and enlivens the imagina-tion. According to Montaigne, 'It is good to rub
and polish our brain against that of others.'
It is a general fallacy that to be a good
conversationalist, one has to speak a lot. On the contrary, one of the basic rules for
good conversation is: be a good listener. Let others speak. To listen well is as powerful
a means of influence as to talk well and is as essential to all good conversation.
According to Plutarch, 'Know how to listen and you will profit even from those who talk
badly.' A person who is not a good listener cannot be a good speaker. If in a
conversation, we are always thinking of interrupting the speaker to air our own views, we
will not be able to enjoy his point of view. At the same time we will be earning the
displeasure of the fellow, whom we are interrupting. Locke says: 'There cannot be a
greater rudeness than to interrupt another in the current of his discourse.'
Another rule for good conversation is: don't contradict
anybody unnecessarily. Argument never does you any good. I know a man who has a tendency
to contradict everything under the sun. Moreover, his way of contradicting is far from
being agreeable. He puts forward his opinion in a manner like this: 'What the hell are you
talking...This cannot be so...Oh, you simply don't know anything. You are absolutely
wrong.' No doubt, then this man is avoided like a plague by his friends.
Dale Carnegie in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence
People, narrates a very interesting incident. Once he was attending a dinner in honour of
a dignitary. The man sitting next to him used the quota-tion: 'There is a divinity that
shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will,' and ascribed it to the Bible. Carnegie
immediately corrected him that the quotation was from Shakespeare and not from the Bible.
But the man stuck to his guns: 'What? From Shakespeare? Impossible! Absurd!'
Now, another friend of Carnegie, Mr Gammond was also
present there. Mr Gammond had devoted years to the study of Shakespeare. So that man and
Carnegie agreed to submit the question to Mr Gammond. Mr Gammond listened, kicked Carnegie
under the table and then said,' 'Dale, you are wrong. The gentleman is right. It is from
the Bible." Later that night, Carnegie said to Mr Gammond, 'Frank, you knew that
quotation was from Shakespeare.'
And the reply Mr Gammond gave is very illuminating: 'Yes,
of course, Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2. But we were guests at a festive occasion...Why prove to
a man he is rong...Why not let him save his face.' This incident shows that we cannot win
an argument because
'A man convinced against his will Is of the same opinion
Benjamin Franklin used to say: 'If you argue and ramble and
contradict, you may achieve a victory some times; but it will be an empty victory because
you will never get your opponent's good will.' So the best method of winning an argument
is, to avoid it.
Next, show an active interest in what is being said. Don't
think that the man who is speaking is a blockhead, that he knows nothing. It is a tendency
in some people to act as if^ they feel extremely bored when another person is speaking
This is not good. Show a lively interest in the conversation with an occasional nod in
approval. This brings out the best in the speaker. Prolong his subject, ask more about it,
appreciate his talk and 'he expands like a flower in the sun'.
I have found that some persons always talk about
themselves, their so-called 'qualities/ their 'high family background' etc. A friend of
mine considers himself to be a good conversationalist. But everybody who knows him well
wants to avoid his company because they know that this gentleman will not let their ears
any rest with his ceaseless patter regarding his own qualities etc. He has many 'uncles'.
It is the general content of his conversation that one of his uncles is Governor of Jammu
and Kashmir; another one is a Commissioner; still another is Chief Justice in some state
of USA, and so on. He will thus continue telling about his 'highly placed' relatives and
unscrupulously ignore the fact that his listeners are yawning or are showing indifference
to his chatler. Hi s friends consider him a big bore. So, never indulge in self-praise.
And also, cautiously avoid speaking of your domestic affairs. Your domestic affairs are
noting to other people. People are concerned only with you and your conversation. And
don't monopolise the discussion. Let others also speak. It is the egoistic monologist who
holds the floor for all the time and does not let others speak, and is considered the
severest enemy of conversation.
It is bad to indulge in destructive talk. Always avoid it.
Pay due respect to every one in your company. Don't speak ill of anybody. If you pass
derogatory remarks about anybody, your listener forms a poor image about you and not the
person whom you are denouncing. See what Elbert Hubbard has to say: 'Speak well of
everyone if you want to speak of them at all-none of us are so very good.'
Another rule for good conversation is: don't abruptly
change the topic. If you are talking about literature and suddenly you switch over the
topic to share market, your listeners will get a rude jolt. The transition from one topic
to another should always be smooth and subtle. Also, always talk to the point. Don't beat
about the bush. If, at all, you have to divert, bring back the subject after diversion.
This keeps the thread of discussion intact.
In the end, it can be said that to talk well, one must
think well. A well garnered mind with lot of varied knowledge is an asset in conversation.
According to Reader's Digest, 'You must think underneath the subject above it and all
around it...Anyone who finds it hard to talk should learn to think about what he sees,
hears and reads. If you enrich your thinking in these ways, you need not worry about your
conversation. Every new experience will make your talk more valuable.'