An idea I had for a podcast or recorded series: A Word to the Wise, a series of short comedic episodes giving advice on a number of everyday things, cut up into several sections per episode. This would be the first! I am likely to record an episode or two of these, and you’ll be able to find a link to them here on my blog.
Welcome, listener! On today’s Word to the Wise, we’ll be revising the Art of Conversation. Like all art, textbooks on this subject are available at your local bookstore or lending-library, but most of these publications are full of poor advice and conflicting information. The tips you are about to receive here on a Word to the Wise have been compiled by certified professionals and are not available in any book or published compendium.
Remember: A Word to the Wise is a word you can trust.
Section One: The Art of Response
To begin this exercise, consider the following conversation. Make sure to have pen and paper ready to note down what Character 2 is doing wrong.
CHARACTER 1: Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?
CHARACTER 2: ….
CHARACTER 1: I saw a movie yesterday in Spanish class. Have you watched any movies lately?
CHARACTER 2: …
CHARACTER 1: There’s a party on tonight at the Rusty Pirate Nightclub. Will you be attending?
CHARACTER 2: ….
Did you realize what Character 2 was doing wrong? If you said not responding to direct questions, you were right. Character 2 in this example has not yet mastered or does not know about the Art of Response. For humans, unlike chimpanzees or amateur drama students, conversations are not one-sided: rather, a pause at the end of a question or comment indicates that the speaker desires feedback from the other participant.
The following exercises are designed to help you master the Art of Response. For each example, note with your pen and paper an appropriate answer for the situation and compare it to the suggested responses from certified professionals. Are you ready? Then let’s begin.
Example one: I buried a body in the yard today.
Here, the speaker is merely looking for an acknowledgement of their actions. Normally, a simple “Yes” will suffice to let the speaker know that you have heard and understand their comment. However, be careful when employing single word answers. Some experts in the Art of Response feel that single word answers can suggest a lack of interest or engagement with the speaker’s chosen topic. As such, a Word to the Wise encourages the listener to expend some extra effort in order to show that you really care, and understand the speaker intimately. Try “I buried one myself last week” or “Is it body-burying season already?” to build rapport on the back of this shared hobby.
Example two: Did you hear about the imaginary kite? The idea just didn’t fly!
In this example, the speaker is attempting a joke, and expects the listener to laugh, groan, splutter or otherwise express their amusement at what the speaker considers a top-notch gag. A short, simple laugh, while widely viewed as a reasonable reaction, does not embrace the spirit and subtleties of the Art of Response, and an additional phrase is recommended. Attempt a humorous joke of your own in a similar vein, like: “Did you hear about the imaginary knife? The idea just didn’t cut it!” If you lack the imagination and quick thinking requisite for this sort of impromptu wisecracking, or simply do not find the joke funny, try to instead maintain a light, convivial atmosphere with a deflecting comment such as: “Before we get too carried away, what’s the weather like this evening?” or “Well, I never! But how about that ice hockey?”. The speaker will find themselves diverted by pleasant conversation and forget completely that their joke has fallen flat. Remember: a good response makes for good relations.
Example three: You said you would meet me at three o’clock, but I found you with the secretary.
To the untrained conversationalist, this example might appear impossible, with no satisfactory responses available. However, a Word to the Wise is here to help! Our experts in the Art of Response have been in this exact situation numerous times, and can recommend the correct answer with confidence. The Art of Conversation, like Sun Tzu’s Art of War, should be short, sharp and efficient, and it is with this in mind that we suggest “So what?” or “Who cares?”. By demonstrating an imperturbable nonchalance in the face of adversity, the accused will soon have the speaker questioning the validity of their own complaint, and the strength of their assertions. Four out of five experts agree that a studied complacency, expressed with such an economy of words, will leave your accuser discouraged and unsure of where to go to next.
Place your pen and paper aside for now. How did you go? Did you find the exercises easy? If so, you may already be a master in the Art of Response. If you found yourself struggling with any of the exercises, rewind the tape to the beginning and revise the problems we have covered so far.
Congratulations on completing Section One! You are on your way to becoming a certified professional in the Art of Conversation. A Word to the Wise: Conversations will continue in Section Two: Talking Points next week.
Until then, remember: A Word to the Wise is the word that gives back.