Conversation: The Fruit of Curiosity and Sincerity

men and women talkingThis is a guest post by Bob Taylor, a retired naturopathic physician and designer/builder and great conversationalist.

I can strike up a conversation with most anyone. That’s because I’m really curious. Curiosity is the great motivator that pushes me past my shy self.

My curiosity is genuine. I intensely want answers to questions that have rattled me. A new acquaintance is a fount of knowledge I must tap.

I’m not usually afraid to show ignorance. If my questions show even a tiny knowledge of the topic, my new acquaintance will be pleased to see that we have interests in common. This often lights a fire in both of us. A conversation, like a gathering storm, may take shape.

Will I appear un-informed about the subject? Will the conversation grind to a halt when my questions run out? If I am sincere, this won’t happen. This is why I stay away from golf, sewing, and pest extermination. My lack of genuine curiosity about these topics will expose my ignorance. Curiosity is essential; it’s the insistent breeze that awakens the rush of conversation.

If a “conversation” is launched simply to establish rapport with a business associate, then the silences become more frequent, the attention wavers, and the relationship may suffer. I try to make “talk” or “small talk” instead, but I don’t call this a conversation. Not yet, at least.

In the workaday world, the time is seldom right for a true conversation; talk must suffice. Talk is usually the only way to negotiate a new acquaintance. But it’s good to know that talk does not preclude a future conversation.

The appropriateness of talk or conversation must be quickly grasped. It’s better to talk small for a while than to risk not being sincere.

To get talk started, I might note an interesting color in the room, mention some recent “light” news, or say “I bet you’re not liking this weather any more than I am”, and so on. It’s best to avoid probing the other’s mental or emotional space too much in the pursuit of talk.

A conversation, on the other hand, depends upon knowing something about the other person. It may arise from factual or intellectual curiosity or, by contrast, through empathy or common feelings.

“Tell me about your work with …”; “I’ve often wondered about …”, “You make me curious about…”, “I heard about your struggle with…”, “I think that this election is a …” are all possible ways to start a conversation. With these topics, you may risk more, but the sincere person stands to gain much more.

Limit your risks! Be sincere when you engage people. Then, it’s up to you to decide whether talk or conversation is the starting point.

Bob and I also sat down and talked about conversation. Here’s the video.

When I asked Bob for his biography this is what he wrote: Bob Taylor is an off-the-street-guy who talks such a good talk that most people are taken in by his B.S. in a matter of minutes. His latest book is entitled “I’m not Bernie Madoff, but I’m Glad to Take Your Disposable Income for the Best Cause I Know.”

Besides being a good conversationalist, Bob is a funny guy!! I’m glad to know you Bob.


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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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