All Conversations have defined parameters and boundaries, but this is not with any exactitude, hence it is not a definitive science.
Science is defined as a branch or body of knowledge that is systematic, methodical, well organised, meticulous, exact, accurate and precise. Art is about creative ability that is inclusive of craft, talent, skill, competence, artistry, proficiency and craftsmanship. Since the dimensions of conversation are limitless, it certainly categorizes itself as an “Art”. The ability to converse therefore falls within the ambit of “Art”. Art as a trait is mostly an in-born trait; however it is not to suggest that it cannot be acquired or learnt, through toil, passion and focus. To converse with impact upon the listener can either be a naturally gifted skill or it can be learnt. Conversations make or break relationships. Hence it is significantly important to master the ability to converse. In the world of business, the craft deployed to engage in meaningful discussion, is essentially all about, how and in what manner one converses with the counter parties.
Emerson comments “The art of conversation or the qualification for a good companion, is a certain self control, which now holds the subject, now lets it go, with a respect for the emergencies of the moment.” In the course of general conversation, vagueness to a degree is acceptable, but in matters of serious discussion and consideration, each word must be measured for impact, before it is unleashed upon the audience. Wit helps in keeping an engaged conversation, but if it is done without accompaniment of grace and good nature, it will cease to be of any value.
Proficiency in the language of speech is a critical factor. The ability to use the right word at the right time is always a dominant factor, in practicing an effective art of conversation. Often we witness colleagues and others putting their foot in the mouth, through either wrong choice of words or for reasons of imperfection in the construction of sentences. While recommending and appreciating of a junior, for promotion to next grade, the manager before the approving panel remarked, “he works hardly”! If the panel were to take this utterance upon face value, the junior’s career would have been sealed for good. To acquire command over language it is imperative to develop a very wide and deep reservior of vocabulary.
The use of flowery language or use of words that are not common parlance is unimportant, but it is the exercise of extreme discretion that will make a difference to the outcome of any conversation.
It is generally accepted that the art of conversation is more about essentially the art of listening. Being an attentive listener enables us to respond comprehensively and that is the success of any conversation. Written in 1866, anonymously says the quote, “Never speak yourself to others; make them talk about themselves instead, therein lies the whole art of pleasing. Everyone knows it and everyone forgets it.” There are many who are good listeners and unfortunately to the incessant speaker they appear as good conservationists. One way street is not an option for a meaningful conversation. In Gulistan-e- Saadi, it is mentioned, whoever interrupts the conversation of others to make a display of his fund of knowledge makes notorious his own stock of ignorance. As a rule, never interject or jump the gun when sitting in conversation: it is wise to wait for your turn to speak.
Blabbler mouthing is not anywhere near the finesse of conversation. Talking nineteen to a dozen, on every subject under the Sun and hence mostly of irrelevance to the matter, is a sure recipe for a managers disaster in the art of effective conversation. Before engaging in conversation with colleagues, make an estimation of whether they wish to listen or talk more, based on this judgment call, should you position to either just listen or take the lead to speak, the most. It is important that no single individual in a group should take up all the airtime, in a meeting or conference.
Conversations must not take the route of being either competitive or combative, but these should be reflective of serenity and calmness. Those mangers who converse (nay, only speak) incessantly are never atpeace; they are invariably agitated, hyper, intemperate in behavior and intolerable in disposition. Exuding confidence whilst in conversation lends character and weight to the argument. Confidence emerges only if it is annexed to the conversation.
The spoken word is the second face of the man. There is an ancient Chinese saying, a dog is not considered good because of his barking, and a man is not considered clever because of his ability to talk. It is invariably faulty conversations that despoil otherwise good and solid relationships. Misunderstandings between colleagues are largely a result of insensitive method deployed while choosing words in the course conversation.
“The tongue of a man is a twisty thing, there are plenty of words there, of every kind, the range of words is wide, and their variance”(Homer’s Iliad).
Do not assume the mantle of a demagogue when conversing with your team. You are a business leader not a street politician. Be discreet, speak in low tones; silence hasn’t harmed any more than speech has. Indiscriminate and uncontrollable deluge of words using forth from the mouth, is never a good spectacle, to be seen on the corporate floor. Speaking, unintelligently often induces repentance, and in direct contrast listening beckons wisdom.
Oscar Wilde, was a scathing and virulent critic too, most often with a good dosage of acetic acid laced to his comments: he wrote thus: “when people talk to us about others they are usually dull. When they talk to us about themselves they are nearly always interesting.”
Leaders and managers are expected to converse only if they can emit and articulate, their views in an orderly manner with no ambiguities. It is a great need to possess, the ability to share and convey feelings, emotions and thoughts through the medium of conversation. One must say everything that needs to be said, only if one knows how to say it; otherwise silence as an available option / discretion must be used, liberally. To practice good conversation, say only the proper thing and then learn to stop!
Cicero says, “An eloquent man treats humble subjects with delicacy, lofty things impressively, and moderate things temperately.” In the art of conversation, sometimes the ‘unsaid’ is the most powerful message.
The writer is a senior banker and freelance columnist