Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What is meant by "conversation mastery"?
Answer: Mastery has to do with expert skill, knowledge, or artistry. We think of Tiger
Woods as a master of golf, Pablo Casals as a master of the cello. Some cultures such as Japan acknowledge Zen masters,
Tea Ceremony masters, Aikido masters. However, it is harder to identify "conversation masters," and agreement on who
they are can be difficult. Historical examples are Socrates, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Clemens, and Oscar Wilde,
plus thousands of lesser known masters. Masters exhibit a consistently high level of skill.
2. How do people become master conversationalists?
Answer: Actually, in my opinion, not many do. At most, 5-10% of the population. Those few have high social intelligence and language ability to start with. Then they hone their skills in the presence of other excellent conversationalists, not unlike the way a martial arts student might practice with highly skilled others. For example, if you play tennis and want to get better at your game, you must play with more and more skillful players. Otherwise, you can't improve. Also, many sports and nearly all performing arts employ coaches and master teachers. At this time, the art of conversation has only a few expert coaches.
3. What's the difference between "small talk" and "conversation"?
Answer: Actually, small talk is a minor but important type of conversation. It is less complex and has as its main purpose building and maintaining relationships by talking about common topics such as family, business, sports, entertainment, and so forth.
4. Doesn't successful conversation depend on both, or all, talkers?
Answer: Yes. However, a conversationalist of low or average skill may not be able to create a satisfying conversation with a stranger of modest skill. A proficient conversationalist would probably be able to do so. Think of a Fred Astaire dancing with a partner who has minimal dancing skills. He would make that partner better despite her low level of skill.
5. What function does listening play in conversation?
Answer: The important function of accurately receiving the messages. Many "good talkers" are not very
good receivers, and some "good listeners" are not very good talkers. One needs both skill-sets. Some excellent
conversationalists do less than 50% of the talking, sometimes only 20-25% of the talking, occasionally as little as 10%.
6. What are the personal and professional rewards for becoming more skillful at conversation?
Answer: They are many, including improved human relations with family and friends and greater effectiveness in the workplace. Highly skillful conversationalists tend to rise in their jobs and professions, often achieving positions of leadership. The evidence is clear that just as advanced education is related to higher income, so is greater conversational skill related to higher income.
7. Where and how can I develop my conversational skills?
Answer: Identify places where people engage in intelligent talk, such as book clubs, discussion groups, and salons. In the U.S. and Canada, somecities have "Conversation Cafes" that meet weekly. Also, it's helpful to spend time with persons you know to be excellent conversationalists, who have many of the mastery proficiencies . You can even create your own "conversation circle" and invite a few qualified people for open discussions on topics of mutual interest.
8. How can I improve my speaking vocabulary?
Answer: Mainly through reading good literary material, including fiction, poetry, essays, as well as non-fiction material. Many of the new words we acquire we learn from the context of the material. You can also listen to audio tapes ("books on tape") and to people who use rich vocabularies. Then you must put the new words to use when talking to others. One aspect to mastery in vocabulary is the ability to use it appropriately, depending on the person you are talking to.
9. How can I overcome my nervousness or shyness when talking to people?
Answer: Oftentimes the nervousness results from self-consciousness about not knowing what to say. As we acquire greater social learning and conversational skills, that nervousness tends to fade away. Confidence usually comes when we know we can do it because we have repeatedly done it. To gain this confidence, we must practice regularly talking to others. Sadly, too often shy or anxious people avoid social contact and thus do not gain the fluency needed for confidence. It is also possible to reduce anxiety by changes in our thinking about conversation, such as the change from "I'll probably say something stupid" to "I am able to talk effectively with others."