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The Silence Is Golden

Posted by Peter Post  November 13, 2012 07:00 AM

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November 8 heralded a new era across America—the silencing of the political ad machine and the quieting of conversations which always seemed to turn to politics and the election for the last umpteen months.

With the media, it was a simple rising of the sun on November 8 with no election in sight that silenced the interminable ads. In our everyday lives I began to notice something else: pregnant pauses—periods of time when people actually had to think of something else to talk about. Suddenly, they were confronted with the challenge of small talk.

Small talk is an art. I’m constantly amazed by people who can engage in it seamlessly. They meet a stranger and somehow manage to strike up a conversation effortlessly, while others are frightened by engaging in even the most innocuous conversation. Yet, small talk itself isn’t that difficult to master.

It begins long before you meet a stranger. The first step is to become knowledgeable about a variety of topics. To do that you need to read the newspaper, not just for the big headline but also for the smaller stories buried on page 7 and beyond. Watch TV; not necessarily the news but some of the shows you hear about. Then, when you read that newspaper or magazine or watch those shows, think for a moment what could be a question you could ask someone. “Have you watched “Homeland”? I understand it’s even one of the few shows the President watches.” Or “Do like watching hockey? Do you think they’ll ever settle the strike and start playing?”

Just last night I attended a party with a band that played 60’s, 70’s and 80’s music. Instead of talking presidential politics we talked about 60 and 70 year-old rock stars still making it on the concert tour circuit. It was plain fun to see how quickly you could identify the song and the artist as the band began to play.

And every now and then the conversation would die down, and people would just look around the table and smile at each other. The silence was golden.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."

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