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How to Use Social Etiquette in Conversation to Charm People

Aug 17, 2007
Social etiquette in conversation is all about simple good manners. What's most important is that you put the person you're talking to at ease and that they feel as though they had chance to say what they wanted to say and that you listened to them and responded to them sensitively.

There are a few things to bear in mind about conversation etiquette:

1. Don't hijack the conversation

Conversations should be two-way processes where you find out about the other person and what they think on a topic, as well as telling them what you think. Looking at the other person's body language will give you hints about when you've talked enough. Their eyes glazing over as they heave heavy sighs and glance at their watches is always a clue you should stop talking pretty soon!

2. Give people time to speak

Not everyone finds it easy to say what they want to say. Don't be afraid of a few silences in your conversations. A quick look at the face of the person you're talking to will let you know whether they're pausing to think of what to say next; if they've fallen asleep in boredom or if they're scoping the room looking for an escape route! Whatever it is, you probably ought to let them do it.

3. Invite others in

If you can see that someone is struggling for something to say - help them out. Phrase what you said differently if it needs a response and they seem not to understand. But don't be patronizing.

4. Ask questions

Make the questions easy to understand and respond to. That will give the person you're talking to a prompt and help the relax into talking to you.

5. Give people a chance to answer

Make sure you listen. Some people jump straight in with an answer; others like to ponder a question and give a considered response. Either of those options is fine, so make sure you leave time for an answer to be given. You only have to look at facial expressions and body language to know if they want you to step in and rescue them by speaking again.

6. Respect other people's opinions

It doesn't really matter whether the world agrees with you, does it? People are entitled to their opinion and you don't have to launch a single-handed campaign to convince them of the error of their ways. You won't succeed anyway and why does it matter to you? Unless someone is likely to be harmed by holding a particular opinion, leave it well alone. Even if there is a risk of danger, think carefully about whether you're the right person to tell them about it.

7. Don't rain on someone's parade

That's partly linked to the last point, it means don't dampen someone's enthusiasm. You may see all sorts of pitfalls in their plans or what they're saying, but do you really have to be the person to tell them? Can't you let them find out these things for themselves? After all, the problems you fear may not actually arise.

8. Don't be a know-it-all

You may have a wealth of wisdom and knowledge to pass on to someone, but unless you do it in the right way, it won't be appreciated and it won't do any good. It's important not to be smug when passing on advice. Don't pretend you have all the answers - because you really don't. Also - don't make the other person feel stupid. It's bad manners and they won't listen to you anyway.

9. Do not make disagreement personal

It's fine to differ in opinions - even with friends and loved ones. That's just life and it doesn't hurt anyone. A difference of opinion doesn't have to cause a row and it can actually lead to an interesting conversation - if you approach it right.

That means not making the other person feel stupid for thinking as they do; don't bully or berate someone into agreeing with you - this actually won't work anyway; even if they say they now agree with you, they'll probably be lying! Don't resort to abuse and name calling - and listen to the other person's point of view; you'll have an easier life - and you may even earn some respect.

10. Difficult conversations were never meant to be easy
Lack of tact is a huge conversation faux pas. It alienates people and means you just don't get listened to. Think whether you really need to have a difficult conversation with someone - if you think the are making a potentially harmful choice, for instance. Choose your battles on this and make sure you're the right person to have the conversation; are you close enough and trusted enough to advise this person?

It is simple good manners to choose carefully what you say to people. Make them glad they talked to you. Try to make people feel better for having talked to you. If you know a comment will be unwanted, do not make it unless it is absolutely necessary for someone's welfare. Those are the simple rules of social etiquette in conversation.
About the Author
Peter Murphy is a peak performance expert. He recently produced a very popular free report: 10 Simple Steps to Developing Communication Confidence. Apply now because it is available only at: conversation starters
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