The Internet has opened avenues of communication that, as recently as 20 years ago, no one could have foreseen.
That’s the good news. Not so good is a corresponding drop in interpersonal discussions.
A group of folks who gather at Upper St. Clair Township Library is working on remedying that.
They meet for a monthly Conversation Salon to practice the art of, well, conversation.
“This is a new thing libraries are trying to do, get people involved in the library, taking face-to-face,” says Lee Boyd, program coordinator at the USC library. “There’s no place else really where you can do this.”
The Conversation Salon takes place from 10 to 11:30 a.m. the first Friday of each month. Participants simply are encouraged to bring a “willingness to enter into the discussion and to listen to the ideas of others,” according to the Allegheny County Library Association.
Norm Wein, an ACLA volunteer, facilitates the Upper St. Clair salon. The most recent talk involved military invention in world affairs, and the Aug. 3 subject will be: What is the proper role of government in the United States?
“We discuss it among ourselves at the end of the meeting and come up with a topic,” Wein says.
A typical Conversation Salon draws a dozen or more participants.
It’s a lively group with good topics,” says Boyd. “We welcome anyone in the community, or outside the community, to come and talk.”
If you're interested in participating – or if you're simply interested in speaking more effectively with others – the library suggests some skills and etiquette for good conversation:
- Listen carefully to what others are saying and respond to the ideas expressed in the course of conversation.
- You may disagree with the ideas and opinions of others, but be respectful, tolerant and tactful at all times.
- Do not take offense if others disagree or take exception to your ideas. People who express their disagreement with you are paying you a compliment; if they thought your idea was inconsequential, they would ignore your point.
- Do not monopolize the conversation; take your turn and wait for others to speak before you speak again.
- Be brief and express your ideas as clearly and simply as possible. Most ideas can be expressed in a minute or so. If you have talked for more than a few minutes, it's time to stop and listen to others.
- Think before you speak; formulate your ideas before you speak.
- Practice speaking with grace, eloquence and beauty of language.
- Use specific examples to illustrate your point.
- Let one person speak at a time and listen to the speaker attentively. Do not enter into private sidebar discussions while someone else has the floor and is speaking. If more than one person speaks at a time, things can become confusing.
- Don't forget to use wit and humor when expressing yourself.
- Keep to the topic at hand; do not wander off in some totally unrelated direction.
- Do not get into a long discussion of your personal problems or experiences that are not relevant.
- Take opportunities to inspire and encourage other members of the group.
- Don't be shy; take risks, be creative, offer fresh insights, pose questions or ask for clarifications that will breathe new life into the conversation.
- Don't be afraid to compliment another member of the group whom you thought made a very good point or expressed himself or herself particularly well.
- Have fun. Don't take yourself or the discussion too seriously. The point is not to convince or persuade others but rather to undertand the thoughts of others.
- Good conversation is an art and a skill. Strive to perfect your conversational skills.