The dying art of conversation

By Tom Quiner

Now these guys understand the art of conversation!

Now these guys understand the art of conversation!

I enjoy going to a coffee shop early in the morning and having coffee with my wife and/or friends.

Some of the people reading this post are my favorite people in the world. I love to discuss religion, politics, entertainment, or a whole range of issues with them over a cup of coffee.

It strikes me that the coffee shop is one of the few places I ever see people talking to each other, and even more, actually listening to each other. (There are exceptions, needless to say, but more actual interpersonal communication than about anyplace else.)

I’ve been cooped up in the house for a week recovering from surgery. This morning, I met three close friends for coffee early. We had a great time sharing our faith, and just talking about God, the Church, and culture.

When I got home, my wife talked me into going out to the largest shopping mall in town. The outing actually sounded good to me.

We had an appointment at the Apple Store. After our meeting, I rested in some public seating in the middle of the mall while Karen did some shopping.

Two guys were sitting across from me. They were together, but neither was talking to the other. They were on their smart phones.

I watched people walking by. Most had their noses buried in their smart phones, even folks walking in pairs.

I have had family members over to my house who pull out their smart phones in the middle of our conversation to look up something or check an e-mail. My response is typically,

“Sorry to interrupt your smartphone time. Call me when you’re ready to talk. I’ll be running the vacuum cleaner.”

I am one of the strangest people in the world: I do not carry a cell phone of any kind, much less a smart phone. My wife and I run a business together. We’re together a lot, so it doesn’t make much sense for us both to carry one. Besides, I don’t like to talk on the phone all that much.

But give me a cup of coffee at 7AM or a glass of wine after work, and I’m ready to talk!

I have made many conversation gaffes in my lifetime. Here are a few suggestions on how to increase the quality of your conversation time with friends and family in no particular order:

1. Eliminate distractions. Turn the television off. Avoid sports bars with 12 television monitors surrounding you. I know myself: they distract me, and I find my eyes being drawn to the screen. People don’t like to see you do that.

2. Listen attentively, and try not to interrupt when other people are talking.

3. Balance the conversation. Don’t dominate by doing most of the talking. Encourage others to talk. If you’re in a group and one person isn’t getting a word in edgewise, go out of your way to bring him or her into the conversation.

4. Know your audience. For instance, politics isn’t such a good topic with certain folks.

5. Read the signs. Look at the folks with him you are conversing. Watch their eyes. You can tell when you’re losing them when they get that glazed look. That’s a tell-tale sign you’re talking too much. Time to come up for air and ask a question of someone else to bring them into the conversation.

6. If you’re conversing with people you’re just getting to know, ask them open-ended questions to draw them out. For example, if you were sitting across from me right now, I’d say, “What’s your take on the Bronco-Ravens game this afternoon?” If you were a woman, I might say, “What did you think of last week’s Downton Abbey?”

7. Employ honest flattery. Make your conversation partner feel good about him/herself. There’s no shortage of negativity in this word. Conversations flourish when you can create trust with your group. Positive comments about a person mean a lot.

8. Try to use your conversation to uplift others. Be positive. Don’t talk about others negatively.

9. Avoid asking personal questions unless your relationship is sufficiently close with your conversation partner.

10. If at all possible, turn off your cell phone, or don’t answer it unless absolutely necessary.

I have violated most of these conversation suggestions at one time or another. I am fortunate to have a wife who helps me moderate my conversation excesses (translation: talking too much).

Hope these tips are helpful.

Now put your phone away and call up a friend for a cup of coffee and some good conversation!



  1. Monte B. Gray on January 12, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    I agree with you on this! Nothing is more annoying than having to listen to other people’s inane conversations they have in public. It’s as though if one is not connected 24/7 one’s self esteem will suffer. Or perhaps you won’t know about a family emergency instantly. I’m surpruised I grew up most of my life, and survived, without being in constant contact with friends and family.

    Whats even worse is when I walk in to to see a client, and they are on their cell phone. Some of the people I work with will just walk out and return later if that person continues to talk. I have’nt gotten to that point yet, but I’m close to it! The rudeness of people in regards to thier cell phones is astounding. I’m happy to say the only time I carry a cell phone is when I’m driving, and I may need it for emergencies. Other wise it stays in my glove compartment , at home, turned off. I don’t want to be interrupted when I’m out having fun, or visiting with friends..

    • quinersdiner on January 12, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      Great to hear from you. Thanks for weighing in!

  2. Lori on January 13, 2013 at 8:39 am

    I’m sorry to hear you had to have surgery! I’m glad you are feeling at least good enough to go out for coffee. The mall…honestly, that was pushing it.
    Thanks for the great lesson on conversation. Those are some specific tips that anyone can use. I am going to share it with our kids.
    As far as the smart phones, I could go on, and on, and on. Instead I’ll leave you with a picture of something I saw that made me want to cry. Mom and Dad in an expensive restaurant with baby in stroller. Lights are dim, the mood is right for a lovely dinner together. Mom and Dad each on smart phones, and baby has an iPad movie propped in front of her. Zero interaction between people, and they probably didn’t even notice their food. Why bother going out?

    • quinersdiner on January 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm

      Now you, your hubby, and kids are people I like conversing with! Your picture is truly disheartening. But it repeats itself all over the country. As for me, thanks for the kind words. I’m mending quickly and will be good as new in short order.

      • Lori on January 13, 2013 at 6:04 pm

        Thank you! We love a good conversation with you we well.
        I read this post to the family tonight, as a lesson in conversation, and I thought you might enjoy this. One of the boys said that reminded him of an Elvis song, only reversed…”A little more conversation, a little less action”!

  3. Bob Zimmerman on January 13, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    Just look around and take note of couples who have been married a long time. If they seem happy, likely it’s because they have nurtured a lifelong relationship bases on communication… the face-to-face kind. After the rainbows and butterflies of newlywed bliss fades, the real relationship either grows and deepens, or withers…