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What Makes a Great Conversationalist

Audio

Aired 4/20/09

Originally aired on January 6, 2009.

MAUREEN CAVANAGH (Host): You may communicate with dozens of people each day on the phone, text messages or e-mail, but how many people do you really talk with face to face? In fact, when was the last time you had an interesting conversation? Well, if nothing springs to mind, you may be in need of a ‘guided tour of a neglected pleasure.’ That's the alternate title of the new book, “The Art of Conversation” by my guest, Catherine Blyth. She says conversation can bring you the world, if you'll only give it a try. And welcome, Catherine.

CATHERINE BLYTH (Author): Well, good afternoon to you. Thanks for that fantastic introduction. I feel I should say nothing. It’ll all be downhill all the way.

CAVANAUGH: I doubt that. Well, Catherine, tell us, first of all, why should we care about being good at conversation?

BLYTH: Oh, my goodness, where do I start? I mean, on the most basic level, the word hello, it costs nothing but it counts for so much. I mean, just these glancing incidental encounters that can stitch together the day. There can be sources of great friction but if you stop to say hello, have a human exchange, meet that person’s eye, instantly you’ll boost your mood. Conversation also helps us think. I mean, the great ideas in history and probably in your life started in that fantastic, spontaneous, free flowing back and forth of one or two or more minds working together. We’re social animals, us human beings, we’re designed for this stuff, and conversation is a communication technology that’s been in research and development for thousands of years. It’s brilliant at what it’s designed to do. It builds up friendships, it saves our relationships, and the people who are good at it, the ones who – not the people who talk at us endlessly but the ones who make us feel special, they – those are the people who get the jobs, win the dates, you know, they’re the ones who make life better and they get on better with it because conversation isn’t just about being able to talk to anyone. It’s about mastering all those tools we have for reading and changing minds.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Catherine, the way you define conversation, in other words, can we have it on the phone like this? Or is it essentially a face to face situation?

BLYTH: Well, I think there’s no richer, you know, instant messaging system than the look on another person’s face. I mean, friendships sprout, you know, from the smile that twitches at the corner of a mouth or locking eyes at that significant moment. But, obviously, you know, we are having a conversation. We’ve got that back and forth, and we’re very lucky because we’re benefiting from all the messages and the tone of one another’s voice. I mean, some people seem to think that you can have a meaningful or a rich interaction just by exchanging textual messages but as you and I both know there’s a world of difference between the cross at the end of a card that stands for a kiss and an actual kiss. And that’s a good metaphor, I think, for the difference between textual exchanges, which are quite clunky and slow moving, and also liable to misunderstanding and the much more informative human exchange that you get through voices and faces, too, if we’re able.

CAVANAUGH: Now in your book, “The Art of Conversation,” you describe how that art has changed over time. Tell us about that.

BLYTH: Well, in terms of the history of why conversation’s being pushed out of our lives you mean or…

CAVANAUGH: Yes, I – Yes, let’s start there.

BLYTH: Well, I mean, I suppose that just the structure of our existence, I mean, it wasn’t so long ago that it was cheaper and easier and more convenient for a family to sit down and have a meal together. And now, that is called sacred time. It’s called quality time because we’re much more splintered. You know, most households have at least two or three television sets and we are so busy, you know, worrying about how to spend out time that I think we’ve slightly lost sight of how we share it. So, you know, more abbreviated forms of communication, the dreaded Twittering, are now, you know, popular parlance. And I think just the idea that conversation is, in itself, a recreation is something that’s been lost. I mean, you know, the time – the Jane Austen era that we see in “Pride and Prejudice” and so on, that people in those days would collect sort of things to say and commonplace books. It was considered, you know, part of the art of being a great human being, being able to get your message across. But for some reason, I mean, and that does sound rather daunting but it was a part of a larger perception that conversation is a great, pleasurable activity in its own right. But I think because we have lost focus because we’re always so busy worrying about catching up with ourselves, you know, practically two hours a day are devoured by the average person just dealing with e-mails. I mean, goodness sake, ten years ago no one was e-mailing. What are we going to be doing in ten years’ time? It’s understandable in a way that conversations should be being squeezed but what is so wrong is this perception that it’s more efficient and just as good to, you know, rely on these tools, these machines, which, you know, I’m afraid in many cases people end up hiding behind the screens instead of making contact. And, of course, you have that comical phenomenon of people in a café all yabbering away into their telephones…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BLYTH: …but not really talking to each other.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BLYTH: Think how much better life is when you have, you know, traction with your world and that that, in a small way, indicates what we’re missing, I think.

CAVANAUGH: I still say hello to people who are talking on their phone. They say hello and I say hello and then I realize they’re not talking to me at all.

BLYTH: Oh, really?

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

BLYTH: I know, well, it’s a kind of – in many respects the phenomenon of people walking down the street just muttering is like a lunatic asylum.

CAVANAUGH: Yes. Right.

BLYTH: Don’t you think?

CAVANAUGH: Absolutely. Let’s talk about what the qualities are that make a good conversationalist.

BLYTH: Well, I think the most striking thing about misperceptions of conversation is that you have to talk, that if you’re not able to spout pithy quips like Oscar Wilde or, you know, unfurl great Persian carpets of stories like Gore Vidal, that somehow you’re not a great conversationalist. That’s absolute rubbish. I mean, for me, the most important quality in a conversationalist is someone who’s listening, someone who pays attention and shows me their interest. Those – It sounds obvious but if you think about it, I mean, the most striking message you get from another person is whether or not they’re interested in what you have to say and that dictates the success or otherwise of conversation. So I think a generous spirit, someone who’s got the kind of – the imaginative hospitality to kind of entertain your point of view and to dig deeper and also just flow because I think the movement of a conversation is hugely important. I mean, just as the flow is what dictates whether or not our economies work so the flow of words in a conversation dictate whether that is happening. I mean, it’s all very well if people are kind of coming up with extraordinarily beautiful sentences but if there are great, lagging silences or they’re not looking each other in the eye and just, you know, declaiming to their shoes…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BLYTH: …it feels very awkward. And, in fact, if you consider the conversations you’ve had where you’ve walked away feeling good about it, you probably aren’t pondering the words, you might not even really remember the exact words that were said, what you walk away with is that feeling that they’ve left you with. So, you know, just to emphasize to people – What I want to emphasize is that the content of your words, the actual thing you say, is only a small part of the impression you make on another person and that, really, if you’ve got the ability to just open up your words to make – tag on a question with that comment and, you know, engage the other person, that that’s the mark of a great conversationalist.

CAVANAUGH: Now in your research into the art of conversation, do you – have you found that there are certain cultures or regions that are better at making conversation than others?

BLYTH: Well, of course I – You know, every culture, I mean, whether it’s the culture of an individual family to a whole, you know, continent, has a slightly different approach. There are some places which value silence more in a way that might make someone from New York feel uncomfortable. In – Apparently in Scandinavia they especially treasure a pregnant pause which could make us feel awkward. I mean, I’m not so – I don’t have a sort of cut and dried definition of the perfect conversationalist because in a way what the beauty of conversation for me is that it’s an art form that anyone can be a master of because, really, it’s all about being able to express yourself and connect with other people. So I don’t mind – I don’t have a sort of strict view on that. What I’m keen on is people who understand that conversation is an exchange so, I mean, a very broad, generalization about American conversation—this is from people I’ve spoken to about it—they say, and I find, that Americans are tremendously warm and friendly and enthusiastic in a way that lots of English people should think harder about how they come across. But then sometimes kind of the emphasis on selling yourself, talking too much, kind of advertising your personal wares, can get in the way of that small thing of listening to the…

CAVANAUGH: We…

BLYTH: …other person.

CAVANAUGH: We, as Americans, have heard that before, I think. And Patty in Imperial Beach is calling us. Good morning, Patty.

PATTY (Caller, Imperial Beach): Good morning. I’m just so fascinated with the topic because it’s one of the most favorite topics of my daughter and mine. And she is 13 years old and she does exactly what the speaker said, she collects phrases to use in conversation and…

BLYTH: Oh, she’s done fantastic. How old-fashioned is she?

PATTY: Yeah, I thought – I thought it’s kind of old-fashioned but she’s very modern, very cool. You know, she has to keep her coolness about her, and she finds that that is one of the cool things about her and her friends say, wow, you say such interesting things and you use such nice vocabulary. So…

BLYTH: Oh, well, I – All I can do is congratulate you. You’ve obviously raised a brilliant daughter. I mean, that’s exactly what people should be doing. And she’s understood very, you know, she’s got the intuition that if someone is engaging and has something to tell you, you walk away feeling, you know, more turned on to your world. And the other great thing about conversation is that, you know, if you are a celebrant of it, if you understand that there is something out there that you can share with your friends, later on you become a tourist in your world in the best possible sense. It sort of makes you more engaged with your environment and automatically more engaging. So well done, you know, on bringing her up like that.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Patty.

PATTY: Well, thank you. I wanted to mention…

CAVANAUGH: Oh, go ahead.

PATTY: …I have seven children and they are some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met because they are good conversationalists. And we have lots of conversations.

BLYTH: Oh, I can hear someone’s making conversation in the background there.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for your call, Patty. That’s wonderful. You know, there aren’t – Do you think we have a lot of models for good conversationalists in our popular culture? Or our politics, for that matter?

BLYTH: Well, I mean, I think the president-elect is an outstanding example of a powerful communicator. I mean, just the way he holds himself, how the way he manages to be so still and he really gets your attention, doesn’t he? And an illustration of how words can inspire so much more than just thought. It’s about the emotion it arouses, too. But the downside of kind of popular cultural displays of conversation is that, you know, on so many talk shows, particularly the kind of – the more violent ones, you feel that conversation is very much there as a display. It’s like something in the coliseum, isn’t it? You know, people are bashing at each other around the head and while it’s kind of entertaining and it makes for drama, it doesn’t demonstrate the joys of actually unlocking and, you know, letting the conversation go somewhere unexpected. I mean, that, for me, is the greatest joy, that surprising adventure when you click with someone and you end up somewhere that neither of you could’ve predicted because of that unique personal chemistry. But when conversations are set up as sort of polarized battles then it’s all about conflict and drama and it doesn’t really open people’s minds, it just sort of puts them in even more extreme positions, you know, and that kind of attitude to conversation, you know, is great for striking a pose but if ultimately you want to learn something or create – engage or improve a relationship, it’s the opposite of good.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. Let’s go to the phone and talk with Frank in Point Loma. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK (Caller, Point Loma): Good morning. I just wanted to make a comment that why do we feel that we lost something by using tools to communicate, and it’s just like saying that we lost something because we don’t all heat ourselves with a wooden fire.

CAVANAUGH: Got the point. Thank you. What about that? Is – Are there any upsides to text messages, Twittering, being able to communicate with people at a moment’s notice?

BLYTH: I completely appreciate the convenience of these tools and I think it’s – And as I say in my book, you know, I love the fact that I can talk to someone in Albuquerque about gorgonzola cheese should I wish to. What concerns me is that when people end up placing all of their social life in a virtual forum, you know, instead of meeting up with friends to kind of catch up, you mistake, you know, the trading of a bit of information for an interaction and if you end up servicing these tools, spending hours and hours, you kind of feel like you’ve had a social life but you’ve got none of the benefits. So I wouldn’t – I’m not here to kind of say let’s ditch Facebook, let’s stop e-mailing, but I’d like to encourage people to think twice, you know, before you send that e-mail. Think, would a phone call get this done better? Try and e-mail fast for a week and only use it to send documents that you need to send or arrange time to talk. And I bet that you’d be a bit more efficient. So, no, I don’t want to return to the dark ages, I just want to protect and prioritize this Cinderella of communication tools because I think it’s so much more sophisticated than what we’ve got available through computers. And the worst thing about communicating via machines is, you know, this tendency to end up hiding behind screens, becoming less confident, and less able.

CAVANAUGH: We have another advocate of technology. Shevon is calling in from North Park. Hi, Shevon.

SHEVON (Caller, North Park): Hi, how are you?

CAVANAUGH: Just great.

BLYTH: Hi there.

SHEVON: I really wanted to comment on how you said that conversation really makes us learn, and I agree completely. I’m a student, or I was, studying Latin American Studies, and I thirst for conversation now that I’m out of the university because of all the technology. But I did want to show one upside to it. I – My MySpace is a little on the political side and I feel I can really find some people that I would not meet otherwise through those kind of sites and have great discussions, even though they’re online and I can’t get all that wonderful energy I could if I was in front of them. I still feel like as long as we’re able to articulate and evolve our opinions and our conception of, you know, our realities that we all live in, we can really gain from all types of communication. And like you just mentioned previously, that’s, I think, the most important thing is that we’re not going into a conversation just to show our one-sided, rigid or even a little flexible view. In the end, it’s about growing.

BLYTH: Yeah, I mean, you’re talking about correspondence and the celebration of ideas and that is the great kaleidoscope of ideas available on the internet. I mean, I think all of that has – is good and has its place. But just on the pure feel-good factor level, there’s, you know, face to face conversation, you take away a lot more and in terms of forming a relationship, I mean, I don’t remember a single romantic text message. Maybe that’s just because my husband hasn’t sent me any. But I definitely remember those conversations. You know, memories form relationships, are rooted through real encounters. That’s what I’d like to talk about. But, yes, you know, it’s great that people are able to have discussion and, again, I suppose the story of the latest election is that more people were engaged politically than has been seen for a decade, I think, because, you know, the internet was used creatively as a tool by the campaign as to really arouse discussion. The troub – the only slight drawback to – people talk about blogging and so on, is whether it becomes like ego-casting when you only end up talking to people who share your views, whether it actually kind of narrows views or not. I mean, that’s a debate. You know, I think about it. I’m not totally down on it but it’s something to – worth bearing in mind. But if you don’t have the serendipitous encounter, the challenge of someone who’s not just coming from the same position as you, then you can end up sort of just preaching to the converted, which is rather narrowing.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Shevon for that call. And we were about to talk about the roadblocks to a good conversation. You have some listed in your book. Can you tell us about that?

BLYTH: Well, I mean, one of the most common mistakes is thinking that you need to make an impact. Often people who sort of immediately impress their personality or point of view have no idea what impression they’re making. But there are many ways to kind of shut down discussions. Generalizations are particularly bad. These always appear pompous and what they don’t do is give someone something to latch onto. I mean, there’s a world of difference between saying I don’t like this music to, oh, this music reminds me of blah-blah-blah. I mean, just how you stitch topics into each sentence, adding a question onto conversation, you know, oh, I really like this music. What do you think? I mean, it sounds obvious put like that but there are many ways to open and close doors to discussion. I think one thing we always have to be careful of is making personal remarks. I mean, as lots of women say this to me, I hate being told I look well, it means I’m fat. Just watch out, an unsolicited advice is also a corker. I had a delightful experience talking to some strangers in an Italian restaurant and the lady seemed quite nice and then just as we were debating what to have for pudding, the lady said, order the fruit, it’ll do your skin good.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, my.

BLYTH: I know. And other topics to be careful of are health, wealth, and creed just because – and, similarly, boasting. I mean, very often people think they’re sharing their happy news with you but very often if it comes across as though you’re advertising yourself and that can be, you know, shorthand for this person’s rather insecure. I mean, I don’t need to know how much you spent on your new kitchen, really, I don’t. If I want to, I’ll ask.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. Now does this come under the definition of boring conversationalists? Because you have a whole chapter in your book on that subject: boring conversationalists. What do you do if you get trapped by a boring conversationalist?

BLYTH: Well, first of all, you have to make sure that you’re not the boring one.

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

BLYTH: Because, you know, very often boredom is simply a state of mind. It’s a failure of imaginative hospitality. Maybe you’re just not paying attention. Maybe you’re not showing any interest. I mean, for me, boredom is just an absence of interest but it can feel like a hostage situation. And there are two extremes of bore, either the ones who spend hours talking at you about themselves and never ask you a single question or, even more difficult in some respects, are the bores for whom talking to them is like putting money in a slot machine that doesn’t even cough up the flashing lights.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BLYTH: So,I mean, the first thing to do is make sure that you’re actually playing your part and learn to do things like listen into – you know, listen in an active way. It’s no good to having your ears open if your face looks closed, if you’re not looking at them, if you don’t make those little noises that are shorthand for I’m listening to you, and learn to interrupt creatively. I had a great, well, debatable experience with a chap who was determined to tell me all about his weakness for fast Italian cars which was of limited interest to me because I don’t drive. And I just thought, oh, gosh, he’s trying to tell me how rich he is. But I kind of switched off and just went, really? Really? Every so often…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

BLYTH: …to whip it along, and I sort of shut down. And if only I’d, you know, used the editorial rights in my reactions and said, oh, you can drive that fast? Where do you drive that fast? You know, I could’ve opened the door there and we could’ve led conversation in the direction that interested me. So I think it’s always important to remember that you are responsible, that listening is an activity, it’s not a passive thing that happens. And that, you know, half of the time, there is – the boredom springs from your lack of interest. I mean, there’s a great line, I think it’s from Walter Scott, who’s a very florid 19th century novelist, he says that there’s no such thing as – No, it’s G.K. Chesterton, I beg his pardon. He said there’s no such thing as an uninteresting topic, there’s only a noninterested person.

CAVANAUGH: That is very true. However, conversely…

BLYTH: Right.

CAVANAUGH: …the man speaking to you should’ve picked up on your cues, shouldn’t he?

BLYTH: I know. I know. But you can’t expect everyone to be as brilliant as you are and, you know…

CAVANAUGH: That’s so true.

BLYTH: …this is about empowerment. We can’t wait around for the perfect man to walk along, we can’t wait for a pefect world to start having a conversation, you know, you deal with the person before your eyes. And the chances are there is something about them that interests you, so rather than expect to be entertained in that rather – there’s something rather arrogant about that, we should go into a conversation thinking, right, this is going to be an adventure with another mind, and find out what turns them on and then find a way to make it relevant to you. That way, not only will you be less self-conscious but you’re much more likely to make a connection and you could be surprised.

CAVANAUGH: Right now, Rick in San Diego is on the line. Hello, Rick.

RICK (Caller, San Diego): I have a question. Recently my mother’s gone into assisted living so the family’s been talking a lot more. We’re trying to sell the house and stuff. And…

BLYTH: Oh, gosh, I’m sorry to hear that.

RICK: Oh, well, actually it’s working out good.

BLYTH: Okay.

RICK: But my brothers and sislings – sisters, there’s five of us, kind of attack me and always say I’m always just talking about myself and I interrupt. And I listen to that, so I step back a lot and I listen and I don’t interrupt and all these things but it’s really – everything that they attack me on is stuff that they’re doing and it’s really hard for me to kind of have them not talk to me with disregard about things and is there any way I could kind of reach out to them and say, you know, listen to what you’re judging me on and how are you about that?

BLYTH: Yeah. No, I mean, I think very often the things that irritate us about other people are the things we suffer from ourselves so I feel for you and I’m sure you’re right about what you say there. I mean, it sounds like you feel a bit persecuted by them and not surprisingly, so I guess, you know, the – the most straightforward thing would be to try and, you know, find a way of expressing your view with humor and sort of diffusing the importance. You know, need you worry – need you worry so much? I mean, the trouble with family dynamics, and it’s slightly different from conversation with strangers, is, you know, we never see the person before our eyes, we’ve got the whole history of our relationship with that person and where they stand in the family pecking order to kind of contend with. So it won’t be easy to kind of reorganize their perception of you. It sounds like you’re already doing a good thing by, you know, taking on board their criticism and, you know, trying to change your habits and, you know, it doesn’t – I don’t think you can turn them into brilliant conversationalists all at once. But as long as you maintain a kind of positive attitude and say, oh, I’m so, you know, say something positive when they come up with a negative, and try and at least show that you acknowledge their opinion and you want to do better then they should give you the time of day. But behaving against the type, the message should get through to them eventually. I’m sorry, it’s a complicated issue so I don’t feel I can give you a simple answer to it. But engaging with optimism and hope and a bit of generosity and forgiveness because, you know, they can’t see themselves, seems to me the way forward.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Rick, for that call. And we’re talking about the art of conversation. Catherine, you do talk about tough conversations like…

BLYTH: Umm…

CAVANAUGH: …the family conversation we were just talking about.

BLYTH: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Or like first date conversations. What tips do you have for that one?

BLYTH: Well, I think the whole problem with the first date is you are profoundly self-conscious and you’re kind of eyeballing each other so it’s a kind of general strategy to take away that tension. You want to try and find a way to arrange yourself side by side, say alight on topics that are outside you both, outside the situation. I mean, starting a mutual – you know, rather than thinking, oh, gosh, if I don’t say something really impressive immediately, if she’s not rolling around the floor laughing then this is a disaster, let’s set the – Actually, intimacy takes a little time to build up so don’t worry about being in mutual, you know, observing things in the room and coming a bit prepared, like that teenage girl we heard earlier. I mean, having a few things in mind that you’d like to share, maybe a funny story, so you feel armed against potential disaster. And I talk about this in the book, how the stair to intimacy has four steps. You don’t go straight in expressing your deepest feelings. You start with greetings then you share a bit of information, then you might venture an opinion about the music. Oh, isn’t this music kind of mutual in the restaurant, wherever you are. And then once you know that you’re on common ground and you’re chiming with each other, then you can say, yuk, I really hate this music, don’t you? And then that moment of relief when you share the first laugh, that’s when you’re – when you know that you’re onto a winner.

CAVANAUGH: And let’s take another call, Mark in La Jolla. Hi, Mark.

MARK (Caller, La Jolla): Good morning.

BLYTH: Hi there.

MARK: Hi. I wanted to say, first of all, that this conversation on the radio has been very enlightening for me because I’m at a point in my life where I’m kind of reevaluating…

BLYTH: Umm-hmm.

MARK: …what I’m good at and what’s important to me and what I value. And I realize that conversation has always been something that I’ve perhaps been good at and that I’ve wanted to improve on but I’ve devalued it because it seems as though it puts other people off, especially if they feel a little bit insecure about their ability to converse.

BLYTH: Umm.

MARK: So I find myself trying to dumb it down so that I can fit in.

BLYTH: Right.

MARK: And I don’t know quite how to navigate the different levels of language ability that I encounter throughout my day and still feel as though I’m contributing something and not making people feel insecure.

BLYTH: So it sounds to me like you’re a very conscientious talker and possibly you’re losing out a bit because you feel a bit too self-conscious so, you know, you’re not able to relax and enjoy it as much. I’m thrilled to hear that you are reevaluating your life and recognize that conversation is so enriching because I think that’s the big message here for me, that in our lives we spend so much time worrying about how to spend time, we don’t focus on how we share it. But in terms of what tactics you can use, I mean, I think starting simple and just finding that point of connection so rather less thinking about the language and more on what lights the other person up. In a way, you need to sort of find a way to be thinking less about your word choices and taking your lead from the other person. I mean, there’s a fascinating load of research which is in the cover story on New Scientist I was interested to read the other day, which talked about wellbeing and how very – how much of our moods are contagious and the fact is that we mimic each other, you know, the body language series are all very well but in any kind of scenario people tend to be imitating each other’s body language almost instantly and automatically. So if you worry less about the words and more on the kind of confidence you convey, the relaxed demeanor, the smiling face and the note of enthusiasm, that will reap dividends for you because I didn’t – Did I say earlier something like only 7 or 9% of the impression someone forms about you is based on the actual content of your words. A large part of it is how enthusiastic you feel, your tone of voice, and all the rest of it. So worry less about the words and take charge, you know, of the actual topics themselves. Those are the things that will get people chiming with you, and I think you’ll find that it can be easier. But well done for celebrating it.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I’m afraid our conversation is almost at an end, Catherine. But I can’t let it end without asking you about telling jokes. Is it – does it ever work? Is it a good idea? I know some people who save jokes for conversations.

BLYTH: Oh, well, you know what, when it turns into kind of gag contests, when you’ve got five people trying to outwit each other with a funny joke, then it can be terribly self-conscious and it really can sort of curdle the conversation. But one of the great surprises for me was that, you know, in 8 out of 10 conversational moments where there’s laughter, according to some scientists who’ve been eavesdropping on people researching this, it isn’t anything to do with something witty that a person said. So if you want to have a laugh, it’s less, you know, it’s almost less important to go in with a joke than to do lots of subtle body influencing things, you know, standing closer to someone. Lowering your voice. Touching someone occasionally. Of course, a glass of wine helps, too. But all these different signals to do with how you are physically with someone will create a laugh. And the most surprising thing of all was that actually if you really want a joke to go down well, when you’re one-on-one, make sure you laugh at it too.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, yes. Yes.

BLYTH: We have to laugh at our own jokes. It’s been scientifically proven so let that be the message.

CAVANAUGH: Absolutely. Well, I have to thank you so much for coming on the show today and telling us all about the art of conversation. Catherine Blyth, it was wonderful talking with you.

BLYTH: Well, it’s been a great pleasure and can I just say if anyone would like to e-mail me their dilemmas or share some funny stories about conversation because the book is full of those, too, they can get me at Catherineblyth.com. I’d be very glad to hear from you. But thanks so much for the time. It’s been great.

CAVANAUGH: It has, indeed. “The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure” by my guest, Catherine Blyth.

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