To converse well requires more than mere information, knowledge, or a facility of expression. There must also be sound judgment and a good heart, for without these all other triumphs are hollow and delusive.

the art of conversation by balissande finishing school, teaching etiquette and style

Our conversation should be agreeable to others. The subject of it should be appropriate to the time, place, and company. We should avoid all bitterness, all thoughtless criticisms, and all unseemly ridicule. We should also avoid heartless words that wound the feelings and disturb the peace of those who listen to us. By following these rules, you will find your presence welcomed, for wherever you go, you shall spread pleasure and promote friendship.

When speaking to others, it is very important to summon all the tact and wisdom you possess, and then exercise them. An ancient philosopher made it a rule to divide the day into several parts, appointing each part to its proper engagement, and one of these was devoted to silence wherein he studied what to say.

“What innumerable heart-burnings; what a multitude of quarrels; what a host of local feuds would be avoided, if this wise rule were universally followed!”


One of the first requisites of conversation is to have something worth saying. Lowell once said, “Blessed are they who have nothing to say, and cannot be persuaded to say it.” Another remarked, “There are few wild beasts to be dreaded more than a communicative man with nothing to communicate.” Clearly, this might be aimed at the small-talk habits of some.

Carlyle, in his rugged, vigorous style, expresses himself quite as strongly to the same point:

“Thou who wearest that cunning, heaven-made organ, a tongue, think well of this: Speak not, I passionately entreat thee, till thy thought have silently matured itself, till thou have other than mad and mad-making noises to emit; hold thy tongue till some meaning lie behind it to set it wagging.

“Consider the significance of Silence; it is boundless, -never by meditating to be exhausted; unspeakably profitable to thee! Cease that chaotic hub-bub wherein thy own soul runs to waste, to confused suicidal dislocation and stupor; out of silence comes strength.”

The basis of conversation should be knowledge of the subject under consideration. Without knowledge words are just useless sounds.

With that said, know that there are situations in which a vigorous flow of inane small-talk is desirable. You can find yourself in such a situation anywhere – at work, in the lunch room, on the street, in the train, at the opera. The list is infinite because there will always be a time when meaningful is too complicated and/or too long.

Take a look at this short video by BuzzFeedVideo to better understand what we mean…

Small-talk has several characteristics and purposes. It can be a quick opinionated conversation at a formal dinner table. A perfect example would be two art professors discussing the latest Impressionist exhibition at the local museum. It can be something that requires no contemplation or knowledge like the weather. It can also be something based on pop culture, for example a famous TV show or singer. When used well, this can be a good way to bridge divides and get strangers to find similarities.

Please remember, above-it-all, small-talk is just a way to have a conversation that is short, but sweet. It should be used to enliven and spread good humor.


An eminent clergyman once administered this rebuke to a young lady, who monopolized the conversation with her small talk: “Madam, before you withdraw, I have one piece of advice to give you, and that is, when you go into company again, after you have talked half an hour without intermission, I recommend it to you to stop awhile, and see if any other of the company has anything to say.” Rarely will a conversation have a speaker so brilliant and learned that all persons should remain silent listeners.

If you are a lady who thinks you may talk too much, you probably do. And this is a habit you should strive your best to eliminate. When it comes to conversation, monopolizers tend to be the worst of speakers because they are difficult to escape.

You can politely excuse yourself from the negative speaker within a few minutes. You can do the same with those who do not talk or those who speak un-intelligently. But those who monopolize a conversation tend to make escape impossible without being rude. It’s like being in a room with no door or window… no way out.

Every lady should pay close attention to the person with whom she is speaking.

When speaking, you should always watch for shifting body language. For example, if the listener’s eyes start to wonder off your face, know the listener’s attention is starting to leave you. It is time you create space for the listener to talk. If the listener’s body starts to shift away from you or to fidget, know that you are losing that person’s attention. It’s time to move on. If the listener draws her eyebrows in, know that she is confused, and will spend a portion of your conversation trying to unravel that confusion instead of listening to you. So, stop and ask questions.

Below, we’ve included a funny clip from the Steve Harvey Show of a young lady who has the problem of monopolizing conversations. She is finding that this is ruining her dating life and is asking Steve Harvey for advice. Although the clip is funny, please take it seriously.

And please know, when we speak of conversation, we are not only talking about the conversations you have at a sit-down dinner or social event. We are also talking about the conversations you have with dates, partners, family members, friends, your dentist, and even that random person you meet at the grocery store. Every conversation matters because every conversation has more than one person participating.

There is a Chinese proverb that says: “a single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years’ study with books.”

— based on the book: How to Behave and How to Amuse by G. H. Sandison, 1895