“There is no conversation so graceful, so varied, so sparkling, as that of an intellectual and cultivated woman.” – George Routledge

Starting and maintaining a great conversation can be a difficult thing. It certainly causes many anxiety. There are just so many aspects involved – from having enough knowledge to having enough self-control. So, we at Balissande Finishing School understand how difficult it is. The best advice we can give anyone when it comes to conversing is to be considerate. The rest is just refinement.

men and woman talking - conversation etiquette
To clarify: consideration is the action of being thoughtful and sensitive toward others.

Who doesn’t like a considerate person? …the person who remembers to ask about the well-being of your family, who remembers you hate talking about celebrities or despise ancient literature, who remembers how much you love talking about your garden, your kids, or your nautical hobbies? Consideration can go a long way in a conversation. The rest, again, is just refinement.

When you are speaking with close relatives and friends, refinement may not be a top priority. But as you venture more into the executive, academic, and upper-class worlds, you will find that refinement is an important key to success.

Here are 26 etiquette rules for engaging in conversation:

1.. Speak in a way that is more gentle than aggressive. A conversation is not a speech or a rally. Leave the aggressiveness for protest rallies and boardroom meetings. Treat conversations as a way to spread kindness, meet new people, and learn new ideas.

2.. Speak in a way that is more slow than speedy. Don’t rush through your words. Focus on speaking with good diction.

3.. Speak in way that is more soft than loud. It is better to be barely heard than to be heard across the room. But it is even better to find the perfect volume.

4.. Do not say “yes, sir” and “no, sir” or “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am” often in a conversation when speaking to someone. You will sound like a parrot or worse, subservient.

5.. Avoid slang as much as possible, unless speaking with close friends in the privacy of your or their home. Not all slang is understood by all people. Remember, when speaking to people of different cultures, ages, races, social-economic levels, or professions – it is much easier to be understood when you speak with words everyone can understand.

6.. Do not use the words, “I guess” or “I reckon” often. This makes you sound insecure and lacking in knowledge. Know what you want to say and believe in it. Otherwise don’t say it at all.

7.. Do not interrupt people while they are speaking, even if it is a close friend. There are of course exceptions to that rule. For example, you can interrupt someone to ask for clarification. For more exceptions, click here.

8.. Do not argue. Arguments are unacceptable in polite society. It is better to state your point, listen to the other persons point, and then to re-direct the conversation. You may also keep quiet and then excuse yourself a couple of minutes later if it is fitting to do so. It is absolutely unacceptable to hit someone because of a disagreement.  And never raise your voice in trying to prove your point. One should only raise their voice under the most dire of circumstances.

Click on the video below to see how inappropriate and disconcerting it is to argue and raise your voice in polite society. Note how an arguing voice can ruin the atmosphere of an event. Also, note how a loud voice is sometimes needed to stop an injustice from continuing.


9.. Do not laugh excessively at your own story. Give a brief laugh to encourage people to lighten their mood and laugh along. But leave the rest in their hands.

10.. Do not point at someone while you are talking about the person. It is rude to show people you are talking about them. This will make the person you are pointing at wonder what you were saying and it may even lead to feelings of insecurity and anxiety. So, such actions should be avoided. They are inconsiderate of you.

11.. Try not to begin a story and not finish it because you forgot the end. You will appear ditzy. And if it was a good story, people may feel disappointment that they could not hear the end.

12.. Always look people in the face when you speak to them. Looking to side constantly will make you appear overly shy, guilty or worse, disinterested in the current conversation. Looking at people in the face will also help you to see non-verbal cues. Watching for cues can help you direct a conversation more effectively. You will be able to better learn what topics people are interested in discussing and which they prefer to avoid.

13.. Do not repeat the name of the person you are speaking to in a sentence. For example, avoid saying something along the lines of: “Yes, Mrs. Edwards, it is indeed beautiful, Mrs. Edwards”.

14.. Do not take someone aside in front of others in order to whisper to them unless it is something really important like their car is being towed. You do not want people thinking you are gossiping or saying something negative.

15.. Do not talk about religion. People rarely ever agree on it. It would be most disastrous to be responsible for an argument or a conversation that got out of control. This could result in you never being invited again.

16.. Listen well. Look interested. Keep focus on the speakers words. This is important for many reasons. The top two are: this will make the speaker feel like she is being heard. And it will give you the ability to respond adequately to any question thrown at you in regards to the conversation.

17.. Do not speak in a language that others in the group cannot understand. It’s also preferable that you not speak in a language that everyone in the near vicinity cannot understand. Speaking in a language others cannot understand excludes people. This is inconsiderate. It prevents others from understanding what you are saying and from adding to the conversation.

18.. Do not speak of private matters at an event. This will either encourage you to share information others should not know or it will force you to exclude other people from your conversation. Leave private matters for another time, in a more private location.

19.. If someone walks in on an on-going conversation, it is good manners to fill the person in on what is being said. But do so briefly and softly. You don’t want to stop or change the flow of conversation.

20.. Familiarize yourself with the current events of the last couple of years. This way you will not be lost in conversation.

21.. Never talk long on subjects you have no knowledge on. The more you do, the more ignorant you will sound in front of those who have knowledge. It is important here to be honest with yourself about your knowledge level. A workshop, a couple of experiences, or a couple of college classes does not equal a high level of knowledge.

22.. Do not gossip. Avoid discussing scandals. Avoid being malicious. Try to keep your conversation as positive as possible. You want people to enjoy speaking with you.

23.. When speaking to someone with a title, don’t begin every other sentence with their title. Or their name. Space it out well.

24.. Do not fidget while you talk or while someone else talks. Don’t adjust your clothing, jewelry, and hair constantly. You will distract others from listening to the conversation with these ticks.

25.. Do not move excessively when talking or while someone else talks. If you are standing, don’t shift from foot to foot constantly as if you’re dancing. If you are sitting, don’t swing you feet, tap your fingers, or move around in your seat constantly. Always sit or stand with good posture and poise.

26.. Do not curse. Swearing is bad for so many reasons. It’s distracting, offensive, ungraceful, limiting, lacking in sufficient vocabulary, not thought-provoking or enlightening.

conversation etiquette from downton abbey, Dowager Countess