Friday, November 14, 2008

The "Art" of Conversation

I'm not sure whether it's from a lack of interest about others, an escalated view of ourselves, emails and texts replacing many telephone and face-to-face conversations, iPods and earphones shutting out the rest of the world, a hurried pace or all of the above, but the art of conversation, real and meaningful conversation, is being lost.

It is so important that you teach your children and develop in your children the art of conversation.  I used to rehearse how to talk to people with my children before we'd visit the senior residents' home each month.  We'd have a special topic each month, and my children were instructed on how to ask the topic question, and how to respond when the answer was given. 

Another good way to teach conversation that I have done with my children is to hold a ball.  They can practice on how to start a conversation.  Some good conversation starters with people they don't know are asking them where their favorite vacation was, where they live, work, etc., what their hobbies are, how many people in their families, etc., depending on the age of your child.  When they start the conversation you toss the ball to them, and then you respond, and they toss the ball to you.  It is then up to them to keep the conversation going so you can toss the ball back to them, and so on. 

Here are some good ways to teach this art:

* Conversation is a two-way process. Don’t talk about yourself or just give
your own ideas about things. Ask others directly for their views and listen
to what they say.

* Show interest in what others have to say. Remember personal details
about them. Be a good listener and give positive feedback to what people
say. Ask follow-up questions. Try to re-cycle their words in your speaking
to show that you’ve heard what they’ve said.

* Learn how to alternate between talking and listening. Make sure your
speaking turns are not too long or elaborate or repetitive.

* Conversations are visual too. Be aware of body language. Make good
eye-contact and at appropriate points nod supportively- even if you
disagree. A friendly smile and tactful humour help conversation to flow.

* Make a mental note of things of interest that can be used to start a
conversation. Current and local issues, sport, recent events and the
activities of others (public figures, celebs) will always make good
conversation topics whether at home or at the office.

* Beware of telling too many personal anecdotes. Always try to give
examples that lead you to general conclusions.

* Don’t keep changing the topic. It is better to pursue one or two topics than
to keep trying to juggle too many subjects. Don’t be afraid of shortish
silences. They can allow people thinking time.

* Be polite at all times. Do not interrupt others too much when they are
speaking. However, when you feel comfortable in a conversation, interrupt
calmly and in a friendly way to challenge an idea or point of view.
Conversation becomes debate when ideas are challenged.

Challenge:  Teach your children to be interested enough in others to engage them in conversation.  Have people over who your children can talk to and communicate with.  Early on, train your children to develop the art of conversation, and encourage them that it is a skill worth learning.  Practice this art with your child, and communicate thoroughly and often about a variety of matters.  (If you start this early, you will always have a lot to talk to your children about as they grow older too!)  If you know your child is visiting a relative or friend, help them think of some things they don't know about that person and how to develop a conversation to find out things.  You may even encourage them over time to start little books about interesting things they learn from communicating.

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