Dale Carnegie knew that the key to being a good conversationalist lies in being a good listener. In his landmark book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” he tells the story of meeting a distinguished botanist at a dinner party given by J.W. Greenberg, the New York book publisher:
I had never talked to a botanist before, and I found him fascinating. I literally sat on the edge of my chair and listened while he spoke of hashish and Luther Burbank and indoor gardens and told me astonishing facts about the humble potato. I have a small indoor garden of my own—and he was good enough to tell me how to solve some of my problems.
As I said, we were at a dinner party. There must have been a dozen other guest there; but I violated all the canons of courtesy, ignored everyone else, and talked for hours to the botanist.
Midnight came. I said good night to everyone and departed. The botanist then turned to our host and paid me several flattering compliments. I was “most stimulating.” I was this and I was that; and he ended up by saying I was a “most interesting conversationalist.”
An interesting conversationalist? I? Why, I had said hardly anything at all. I couldn’t have said anything if I had wanted to without changing the subject, for I don’t know any more about botany than I know about the anatomy of a penguin. But I had done this: I had listened intently. I had listened because I was genuinely interested. And he felt it. Naturally that pleased him. That kind of listening is one of the highest compliments we can pay to anyone.
I told him I had been immensely entertained and instructed—and I had. I told him I wished that I had his knowledge—and I do. I told him that I should love to wander the fields with him—and I should. I told him I must see him again—and I must.
And so I had him thinking of me as a good conversationalist when, in reality, I had been merely a good listener and encouraged him to talk.
Always remember that the person you’re talking to is a hundred times more interested in himself or herself and his or her wants and problems than he or she is in you and your problems. Think of that the next time you start a conversation and simply take an active interest in what the other person is saying.
Here’s some more information about this important principle from your friends at Dale Carnegie Training of Central Ohio:
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