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Published:March 16th, 2009 09:46 EST
Rediscovering the Lost Art of Conversation

Rediscovering the Lost Art of Conversation

By Terry Sumerlin (Mentor/Columnist)

Other than bartenders, barbers do more listening than just about anyone. That doesn`t make us experts on effective communication, but it does tend to give one a feel for what "works" and what doesn`t - for what stimulates the mind and for what is mind numbing.

As a result of years of listening, and with a view to helping all of us become better conversationalist, please allow me to make a few suggestions.

1. Restrict talk to when you really have something to say. Because we can`t draw water from an empty well, we can`t interest others in listening to nothing. Unfortunately, this doesn`t stop some from talking. Thus, the listener is subjected to a type of stream-of-consciousness monologue in which the speaker never completes a thought (perhaps because there is none) or even stumbles over a period. Grandpa used to say that such folks must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle. They abhor silence and are intent on seeing that it doesn`t exist. They seem to think they will be heard for "much speaking" when, in reality, the very opposite is true. People tend to eventually tune them out.

2. Get to the point quickly. In close connection with having something to say is the equally important matter of getting it said in short order. We often hear someone say, after droning on and on, "Well, to make a long story short." We want to scream, "Man, you missed your chance for that an hour ago!" By all means, have a point. But, keep in mind that the more time required getting to the point the stronger the point better be. Otherwise, listeners feel cheated.

3. Talk about the other person`s interests. Sometimes we are like the two passengers who were seated side by side. At the end of the flight, they each commented on how much they had enjoyed visiting with one another during the flight.

One of them suddenly said, "Oh, I almost forgot. I never showed you pictures of my grandchildren, did I?"

"No," his new friend replied, "and I sure appreciate it."

As I`m conversing with others, if I notice they have a glazed look in their eyes or look somewhat like the RCA Victor dog it might be the result of talking about something they have absolutely no interest in or that they understand nothing about. Good conversationalist (as well as those with good manners), look for such bumps in the conversational road.

4. Take a position. Barbers hear more about the weather than probably any other subject. And, as polite small talk, it serves a purpose. But, conversationally it`s rather bland. Since no one has ever been able to do anything about the weather, it`s generally not a subject on which people tend to take a stand -- except to say they want the weather different from what it presently is. Stimulating conversation, on the other hand, comes from a mind that has done some thinking and has formed conclusions. Without being obnoxious, this person stands for something and knows why. Unlike the bumper sticker that said, "Honk if you believe in anything," this person possesses certainty and depth that makes you want to listen when he (she) decides he has something to say.

5. Take time to listen. Someone has said that no one would take the time to listen were it not for the hope of getting a turn at speaking. Yet, the fact that we have one mouth and two ears ought to tell us something. Maybe we were meant to listen more than talk, especially since we rarely learn anything with our mouths open. Quite often one might be considered a great conversationalist simply as a result of effective listening.

BARBER-OSOPHY: Good conversation comes from good minds and unselfish attitudes.

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