BY ALEX P. VIDAL
THE feud between two prominent personalities in our city can be attributed to their failure to communicate, although both their media admirers swear they also talked once in a while — when they were probably still on speaking terms.
The lack of good conversation results because people take conversational ability for granted. They think that a man has either been given the gift of gab or he hasn’t. The truth is that conversation is an art. Like any other artistic ability, it requires training and discipline. Practice improves it. So does being constantly aware of where conversational mistakes can be made.
I made a research on this problem and this was what I found out: Asking ourselves the following questions is actually a great help.
1. What are we talking about?
2. With whom we are conversing?
3. Under what circumstances is the conversation taking place?
4. Why are we engaged in this conversation?
5. How should we say what’s on our mind?
6. When should certain things be said?
According to Dr. Mortimer Adler, conversation has to have a solid foundation. Those involved have to know what the subject is. If they don’t, the talk will be lopsided. Like any jerry-built structure, it is bound to come tumbling down in confusion.
The following rules should be observed: Let’s begin by stating our own views in the shortest, clearest way we can. Have the other fellow restate them in his own terms and to our satisfaction. Then let’s do the same for what he has to say. If we insist on this, what we are talking about will be clear. And if we don’t hop, skip, and jump all over the conversational landscape thereafter, the subject won’t be lost.
Most people are interested in some subjects but not others, Adler observed. “If we and someone else share a common interest, fine. If not, we can try to establish it. But if, after a few good tries, we see that the other party doesn’t respond, don’t force it. If we do, we will very often find that we have wasted our time.”
He added that there are times and places for heavy talk, times and places for light talk, and times and places for no talk at all. “Many good conversations are botched from the beginning by the participants’ not being able to tell the difference. Let’s try always to weigh the external factors that can affect conversation. If certain favorable conditions are lacking, let’s try to estimate how much they will disturb the talk. If they are all lacking, if the circumstances are stacked against us, then we shouldn’t try. We have to play this by ear, but if we keep the circumstances in mind, we won’t make so many mistakes.”
Here’s the complete observation of Dr. Adler: “No one is more disliked than the fellow who argues for the sake of argument. He is the windbag who supports the notion that ‘talk is cheap’ when, in fact, it is one of the most precious things in the world.”
“To be merely contentious is not to converse. When we try to laugh off a telling argument or ridicule the other party, when we agree or disagree without understanding, when we become sarcastic, and when we break off a discussion on some pretext, we are not conversing. All we get is the result of our dubious tactics merit–the cheap victory that they bring.
“Every good conversationalist has a style. The better he is, the more flexible is his style. He knows that the vocabularies, experiences, blind spots, interests, and beliefs of individuals differ greatly. To get accross what he has to say, therefore, he is constantly making adjustments in his manner of speaking. He never falls into rigid patterns.
“As important as style in conversation is timing. We can do everything else correctly, but if we say the right thing at the wrong time, we’ve failed. Sensing the critical moment in a conversation is not easy. We know of no conversational skill more difficult to acquire. And the reason it is so difficult is that it requires us to listen to the other fellow.”