We’re all capable of the occasional social blunder. Of course, some of us seem more prone to it than others, but even the savviest people aren’t impervious to such gaffes. And no scenario is richer with these potential faux pas than the everyday conversation, in which you can say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, and occasionally spit on others when trying to pronounce nouns with German etymology.
No worries. We’ve all had our moments with conversation etiquette mistakes.
But just because these conversation etiquette mistakes happen across the board doesn’t mean they can’t be avoided. All it takes is good judgment, a little maturity and a look at the most common conversation mistakes.
No.10 – Changing the topic to suit your own interests
Everyone has their own conversation topics of choice — work, office gossip or early 20th century smelting techniques. There’s nothing wrong with having these topical preferences, just don’t force them onto others. Let the conversation progress naturally; contribute where relevant and on-topic. We know you’re dying to participate, but don’t try to make some forced transition from American politics to your taxidermy collection. We’re not interested.
No.9 – Checking your phone
Technology has become a distraction for many and, of course, the phone is the worst offender. It’s an extension of you; it’s your life; you couldn’t live without it. We know. But be aware of this conversation etiquette mistake. No matter how important the text, the e-mail or the brick breaker score may be, checking your phone during a conversation is one of the most insulting gestures. In some countries, the “phone check” is punishable by death. And although in Western culture it may only be looked at as a conversational faux pas, it’s still an ill-advised move.
No.8 – Not knowing your audience
Know your audience. You can’t hide behind “I am who I am, no matter who I’m talking to.” Certain people require a certain type of conversation. Your boss sees the PG version, your friends see the R version and, if you’re lucky, you have the occasional X-rated with the spouse. But no matter what, you should always be tailoring the act for the audience. Just because the one about the Jehovah’s Witness and the rabbi gets a good laugh with your pals doesn’t mean you’ll get the same reaction at your aunt’s wake.
No.7 – One-upmanship
It’s not only a conversation etiquette mistake, it’s an alienating trait to exercise. Even if you feel the urge to vocalize your greatness in comparison to others, do your best to suppress this competitive edge. Conversation is not a competition. You don’t have to one-up the other person’s story, their good news, their time to shine in the conversation spotlight. You’ll have yours — don’t worry.
No.6 – Talking from your seat
Time and time again you’ll be at a restaurant, and that friendly acquaintance will come by for the standard greeting. Often, like a lethargic royalty on his or her thrown, you’ll simply remain seated while the servant-like acquaintance asks about the family. It’s awkward, it’s rude and it can be easily avoided. Just get up. Stand from your seat, shake a hand, pat the back, and ask where little Jenny is applying to college. God, these kids grow up fast. But seriously, stand up.
No.5 – Cursing
Who doesn’t love a four-letter word? We all do. But conversations aren’t meant to sound like an Andrew Dice Clay set at the Improv. The occasional use of profanity is certainly acceptable in the right situation. You may want to enhance a story, bring back the audience or give an accurate description of the guy at the DMV — go ahead, but be aware of this conversation etiquette mistake. Being too heavy with swearing is always a mistake when it comes to conversation. Get a thesaurus; find alternate expletives.
No.4 – Looking over their shoulder
Nothing is more disrespectful than your eyes drifting off over the shoulder of your speaking companion, as if looking for a better option. Even if Jeffrey Dahmer is approaching with a machete and a lobster bib, the eyes should remain focused. We know it’s tough to stay engaged throughout the whole conversation. Maybe you don’t have much of an interest in your coworker’s medical worries and the effects of lupus. But hang in there and show some respect.
No.3 – Not introducing the participants
It’s a pretty tasteless move to let your companion sit idle in a conversation without the correct introduction. Although it’s many times remedied with an “Oh, I’m sorry, this is…” the repeated offense is inexcusable. If it’s a friend who doesn’t get the introduction it’s extremely unfortunate. And if it’s a boyfriend or girlfriend, nothing says “This won’t last more than six months” than letting him or her stand silent, awkwardly smiling.
No.2 – Monopolizing the conversation
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not enjoyable to hear one person rant through an entire one-sided conversation. You have to pass the mike — even if you have zero respect for what might be heard on the other side. Don’t monopolize the conversation — it’s one of the most common conversation etiquette mistakes. It’s a painful practice for all involved. At least look to settle for a duopoly.
No.1 – Interrupting
It’s the No. 1 conversation etiquette mistake, committed by everybody at one time or another. It’s unbearable for the one getting cut off and it shows the interrupter truly has no interest in hearing what the other party has to say. The easiest way to avoid it is simple: just listen. Many substitute the listening portion of a conversation with the “what should I say next?” portion. Once that thought is formulated, it blasts right out. Listen. Imagine the person talking has a 10% chance at producing a fairly cohesive point. Now imagine how disappointed you’ll be if you miss it. Protect yourself, let them finish, then start pontificating.