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Be an Icebreaker, Not an Icemaker Tips to master the craft of civilized conversation.

By The Epoch Times Edited by Charles Muselli

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Most of us pay attention to our appearance.

We may wear sweats and sandals around the house, but we put on appropriate attire when we head out for work at the bank. At the restaurant, we take a quick glance in the bathroom mirror to make sure the teeth aren't showing a bit of salad. We work out at the gym for fitness, but also to shrink that belly and win the compliments of friends. We as a people spend a fortune on makeup, plastic surgery, and other cosmetics, all to improve our looks.

But how many of us give the same consideration to the way we converse with others, particularly when we first meet them?

When at a company convention, for example, do we ramble on while talking to a stranger? Are we so fixated on ourselves that we fail to read the signs on her face and in her body language that she's desperate for an escape route? Do we ask questions and then listen inattentively to the answers? Do we interrupt her when she's talking, like some of the hosts on talk radio? Do we tell inappropriate jokes and then wonder why she doesn't laugh?

In "The Art of Civilized Conversation," Margaret Shepherd and Sharon Hogan write, "Conversation, which is a craft as well as an art, requires only a little talent and a lot of practice."

Here are some tips to help you master that craft. Let's stick with the convention scenario, where our boss has introduced us to Abigail from accounting.

Remember names. A good number of us, including me, sometimes forget the person's name to whom we've just been introduced within minutes. Not good. Here, we can help our memory by repeating "Abigail" several times during the ensuing conversation. We can also use tricks of language. At my local laundromat, when I first met the manager, she said, "I'm Marty. Rhymes with party," and I've never forgotten her name.

Keep an appropriate distance from Abigail. No one wants a stranger up close and personal. Stay at least an arm's length away.

Maintain eye contact. If you look at the floor or into the distance when speaking, you're signaling disinterest. Focus on Abigail.

On the other hand, avoid staring. One man I know cocks his head and stares directly into my eyes for the entire conversation. I feel as if we're in one of those "see who blinks first" contests from childhood.

Ask questions. If you discover Abigail grew up in Elkin, North Carolina, but now resides in Houston, you've just received a gift basket of questions. What's Elkin like? How was it growing up there? Was the transition to Houston hard?

On the other hand, avoid interrogating her. Instead of asking question after question, bring your own experiences to the discussion.

LISTEN. That word deserves caps because listening is such a vital part of good conversation. We value people who possess this skill, who truly hear us. And we don't listen just with our ears. Our facial expressions and body language send the message that we're focused on what Abigail is saying.

Leaving aside the first tip, these tools will enhance any conversation: a casual talk with a friend on the porch, a work-related discussion with fellow employees, even a chat with family members.

As Shepherd and Hogan remark, "Civilized conversation, like all art, connects you to the best in other people and in yourself."

By Jeff Minick

Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, "Amanda Bell" and "Dust on Their Wings," and two works of non-fiction, "Learning as I Go" and "Movies Make the Man." Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.

The Epoch Times, founded in 2000, is headquartered in Manhattan, New York, with a mission to provide independent and accurate information free of political bias or corporate influence. The organization was established in response to censorship within China and a lack of global awareness regarding the Chinese regime's repression of the spiritual practice Falun Gong.

The Epoch Times is a widely read newspaper that is distributed in 33 countries and is available in 21 languages. The publication has been critical in providing balanced and detailed reporting on major global events such as the 2003 SARS pandemic and the 2008 financial crisis. Notably, the organization has played a key role in exposing corruption inside China.

Aside from its human rights coverage, The Epoch Times has made significant contributions in a variety of fields. It has received praise for its in-depth analysis and expert perspectives on business, the economy and U.S. politics. The newspaper has also received praise for its broad coverage of these topics.

A series of editorials titled "Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party" appeared in The Epoch Times in 2004. It asserts that freedom and prosperity in China can only be achieved by eliminating the Communist Party, which violated China's cultural and spiritual values. In addition, the organization led the Tuidang movement, which resulted in over 400 million Chinese citizens quitting the Communist Party. In spite of this, 90% of websites referring to the "Nine Commentaries" were blocked by the Chinese regime.

The Epoch Times has been at the forefront of investigating high-level corruption cases within the Chinese regime, with its reporters taking significant risks to uncover these stories. The organization has received several awards for its investigative journalism.

The organization has received several awards for its investigative journalism. For more, visit www.theepochtimes.com.

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