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Ladies’ Guide To Small Talk (May Apply to Men Too!)

January 5, 2009
The following rules are from the book series Eleanore King’s Home Course in Beauty, Charm, and Poise, circa 1940. The books belonged to my friend’s grandma, who loaned them to me. Silly and old-fashioned, yet much of it’s surprisingly relevant and sound advise even for today. This section is from the chapter on conversation. Enjoy!

Rules for Engaging in Small Talk:

1. Don’t speak of personal subjects until you know a person well.

2. Learn to speak of impersonal subjects with enthusiasm.

3. Don’t mention religion, race or politics until you know a person well. Even then you may have to avoid these subjects. The wisest conversationalists do.

4. Remember that “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

5. Don’t argue, don’t contradict, don’t interrupt.

6. Try to carry on a whole conversation without reference to “me, my family, mine.”

7. Don’t exaggerate. Exaggeration is a germ that grows. People get so they don’t believe you when you are telling the truth.

8. Don’t interrupt. Let the other person finish what he’s saying.

9. Don’t be critical. It’s so easy to criticize. If you must pass judgment, think of nice qualities on which to comment. Even then you have to be careful that you don’t sound as though you’re authority.

10. Don’t substitute words for people. Suppose your slower-speaking friend says “No, I thought that book was sort of –uh…” Don’t hop in with “sordid?” Then he says, “Yes, sordid. Well, no, not exactly that either.” He won’t like your helping him out. It’s a vicious habit that grows lie a weed, so watch it!

11. Don’t address all your conversation to one person. If others are there, you’ll have to assume [everyone is] interested.

12. When someone has told a story and you have one to contribute, don’t begin with, “I have one to top that.” Or, “If you think that’s funny, listen to this.” You begin , as they say, “behind the eight ball.” No matter how clever your story is, you’ve built up antagonism before you begin.

13. Give the other person a feeling of importance. Show that you like him, that you like what he says. Do this with a pleasant, sincere expression of interest.

14. Know when to listen. Sometimes listen more than your share.

15. Don’t do all the talking. Here’s an effective way to break this habit: Don’t speak a second time until everyone in the group has contributed at least one sentence. When you start checking on this, you’ll be amazed at how much you do talk!

16. Do be tactful about changing the subject. Begin with that old one, “That reminds me…” And it isn’t bad, although you can smooth it out by saying, “You mentioning your trip east reminds me of my first day in New York.” Give the other fellow his spot in the sun, as it were.

17. Don’t stand closer than arm’s length when talking with people.

18. Avoid subjects like your diet, your figure, your operation, your illness, your tough luck. And when you’re talking to men avoid subjects like cosmetics, reducing, clothes. It’s not only that you’re boring them, but you destroy an illusion.

19. Don’t be too abrupt with your opinion. This doesn’t mean you have to be a yes woman, either. For instance, what’s charming about a woman who says, “Oh, no, John, I don’t think you have the right idea about that at all. Let me explain what I found out…” Brrrr! That’s all the ways known not to have men like you. Instead, she could have said, “I can see why you feel about it as you do, John, but here’s something that was brought to my attention the other day…” The cleverest woman doesn’t show too openly how clever she is!

20. Don’t ask strangers if they have children. If they have, you’ll hear about it!

21. Don’t ask single people why they’re not married.

22. Don’t make derogatory remarks about divorced people. Or should I say, Don’t make derogatory remarks period?

23. Do learn how to accept a compliment. Say, “Oh, thank you, Jim, that’s the most encouraging thing I’ve hear all day.”

24. Don’t sell yourself short. You don’t have to be conceited, either. But people have a way of accepting you at your own worth. You make people uncomfortable when you say derogatory things about yourself.

25. Do learn to tell a story. Don’t laugh while telling it. Speed up its tempo. Don’t digress into many details. Don’t explain the point.

Well, there are twenty-five ways to check you conversation. Fortunately, since you have to talk to people every day, you don’t have to wait for a special occasion.”

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