It is often said that the art of conversation is being lost and that we are the poorer for it. Many would blame the advent of technology and social media but the truth is far more disturbing and goes right to the heart of who we are as people and as a society.
Like many skills the ability to talk well can be cultivated but at its core the ability to be a good conversationalist is dependent on how interested we are in others.
Interest is the primary ingredient in good conversation - either in the subject or the person, but interest in the person is the more critical.
Sure it helps to know stuff. It's a good idea to conscientiously stock your mind with facts and information and then form opinions on the basis of that knowledge but a monologue is not a conversation. Masters of the art of conversation rarely give advice, and then, usually, only when requested. Even then it is given tentatively and without seeming to impose their wishes. Conversation is not an opportunity to prove your superiority or to wax lyrical on the subject of the day.
In fact, the real aim of one-on-one conversation is to:
a) get to know the other person and
b) reveal a bit about yourself
Those are not things we aim to do directly but they do hint at what is required to be a good conversationalist. If we are to get to know someone then we need to have an interest in them and an interest in the subject. If we are to reveal a little of ourselves at the same time then we need to be friendly, sincere, candid and helpful.
If conversation is a dying art then perhaps it is an indication that we are becoming more insular in our daily lives. Increasingly, we seem to see people who are less inclined to enrich their own knowledge and less interested in learning about others. We seem happy to tell everyone what we are doing and what we think (no matter how trivial) but not so happy to hear what others are doing or think. When we do come across others whose opinions and experiences may differ from our own there appears to be a tendency to ridicule those people rather than explore their ideas.
And what is the common element to all of these conversation killers? Put simply, it is tact or rather the lack of tact. No quality is so conducive to pleasure in conversation as tact. The product of alertness, sympathy and resourcefulness, tact has become society's rarest commodity. Without tact a person, however witty, learned or sincere, is a menace to themselves and others whenever they engage in conversation. Without tact, conversation itself has become endangered.