“There is no conversation so graceful, so varied, so sparkling, as that of an intellectual and cultivated woman. Excellence in this particular is, indeed, one of the attributes of the sex, and should be cultivated by every gentlewoman who aspires to please in general society.” – George Routledge

Ever met a well-dressed woman you took offense to immediately? Ever talked to a beautiful woman who sounded horribly ignorant? No matter how graceful you are, how well you eat at the dining room table or how beautiful you are – the words that come from your lips will always overshadow anything you do or become.

We cannot express enough how important it is to learn how to converse effectively. We think it’s such a shame to do all the work to become an accomplished woman and still be repelling people by the words you speak and the actions you do during a conversation. For this reason, we have dedicated several articles on conversation etiquette.

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The number one advice we can give you for developing your conversation skills is to learn to focus on people’s interests. If you want people to enjoy talking to you, talk to them about the things they are interested in like their kids, their hobbies, their work, their last party, their latest art purchase, their ideas on gardening. In general, people like to talk about themselves.

All you have to do for most people is to ask the question and then sit back and listen to them talk. If you have nothing to add, all you have to do is ask another question related to the end of the previous topic. This way, the conversation will seem to flow effortlessly and intelligently.

Remember when doing this to always watch for cues. Understand some people may not find their job interesting or may be angry at their kids at the moment or may want to keep certain topics private. Watch for this and be ready to re-direct the conversation to an interest that can be discussed without any discomfort.

Here are 7 more important things to develop on this journey to becoming a great conversationalist:

woman speaking on phone, conversation etiquette from balissande finishing school

1.. Tact. When speaking to others you need to show some sensitivity to people’s feelings. If you walk around making people cry out of misguided honesty or worse, meanness, people will not want to be around you. And they certainly will not enjoy talking to you. To develop tact, you need to first develop the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes. You need to understand why it may not be the most compassionate behaviour to say certain things.

2.. Good memory. This is so important and helpful for many reasons. Some being: people like to know you remember them – their names, their family members, the fact that they have a chihuahua named Jack. It also helps to remember the events going on in people’s life, so that you know what to discuss and what to avoid. Also remembering information you gathered from a news report or a book can very helpful in contributing to an intelligent conversation.

3.. Intelligence. There’s nothing like a good education. We cannot stress that enough. Go to school. Read books. Watch documentaries. And listen, listen, listen. It’s hard to be insightful or to even follow a conversation if you don’t have enough background knowledge to relate the information you are hearing. Having a good enough, wide enough knowledge base will allow you to follow just about any conversation. It will also help you ask insightful questions.

Please remember: you don’t have to be a stock broker to ask a stock broker insightful questions. Nor do you need to be a one to offer thought-provoking concepts. Many times those who are in a profession have a hard time seeing the big picture when they spend so much time focusing on details. They forget simple concepts like those relating to human emotion.

4.. Wisdom. The ability to process knowledge may be even more important than having knowledge itself. There are many students graduating from college today with 4+ years of knowledge who sound almost as ignorant as when they entered. Why? Because they lack the ability to process the knowledge they have gathered. For some, wisdom is innate. They can immediately relate the knowledge they receive. While others need time and experience.

5.. Experience. Cultivate experiences. Look for experiences, all sorts of experiences, all around the world. The more you have, the more you will be able to relate to people and the more topics you will be able to discuss. You will also sound more interesting and intelligent. People sometimes connect experiences to intelligence.

6.. Compassion. All the knowledge in the world can’t cover meanness and hate. They show themselves in the opinions, stories, and concepts people share. Fortunately, in today’s world, meanness is rarely tolerated in public venues. For this reason, it is best to cultivate compassion, tolerance, and kindness if you haven’t already done so. Just like hate is seen in the words you speak, so is compassion.

7.. Self-control. This is important because even if you develop all the above characteristics, without self-control you will not be able to use them effectively. Self-control stops you when you need to be stopped. Ever been in a situation where you knew you were saying something wrong and people were getting upset, but you couldn’t stop yourself. You were like a ball rolling down a hill with no brake. That brake is self-control. Self-control stops you when you are talking too much, too loud, too crudely, too maliciously, or too quickly.

8.. Planning. This is not necessary, but it is indeed helpful. If you are someone who has a hard time speaking to strangers or finding topics to discuss, planning ahead of a conversation should become a must for you. For everyone else, planning is an option you should definitely consider before each event.

For example, if you have been invited to a dinner with professionals who are mostly employed in the business industry, it would be beneficial for you to read a reputable business newspaper before you go. You should familiarize yourself with the current news that could be discussed at the event. You can also formulate a few questions that would help feed the conversation.

If you have been invited to an art event and are unfamiliar with the industry, it would help you to quickly learn key words dealing with art – from its production to its sell. Also, you should do a quick study of various art movements. Then, focus on art pieces you like from 1 or 2 movements. This way, you’ll be able to give a positive opinion if desired or asked. Remember to remember the name of the works you like, the artists who produced them, and the movements they fall into. Also remember your initial opinion and response to the works. What did you like about each one? What pulled you? What did you feel? Don’t be afraid to add emotion to your words. You can use the same techniques when studying current artists. You should be familiar with at least 3 current artists and their works.

When planning, remember to plan to adapt. Conversations rarely go as imagined. And you don’t want to throw in questions or answers that have little relation to the topic just because they were on your list. When you are making your question list, go through each question or topic and formulate different ways each can be asked and changed to fit a topic. This will help in your ability to adapt spontaneously. All you need are a handful of great questions and thoughtful insights to participate in enlightening conversations.

Contrary to popular belief, a great conversationalist doesn’t have to speak with perfect grammar. She doesn’t have to memorize a dictionary, an encyclopedia, or the complete works of Shakespeare. She doesn’t even have to speak long or often. But what she does need to have is an ability to share insightful thoughts, to ask the right questions, and to listen with attention.

gene tierney - conversation etiquette