How to Be a Good Conversationalist

good-conversationist-between-womenMiss Meredith Sweetpea has noticed a dearth of good conversation lately. It seems people are mostly interested in themselves or have no idea what to talk about–which doesn’t make the best conversation or the best conversational partner. It is becoming increasingly difficult to enjoy social situations when people just don’t know how to have a good conversation any more.

In social groups, put away the cell phones and actually take the time to speak with–and take interest in–others in the room.

Want to be a better conversationalist?
Use these conversation tips:

DO pack away the cell phone. Unless you’re expecting a major call, turn off your cell phone so you won’t be distracted by its ringing, beeping or vibrations. This will enable you to concentrate on your conversation. If you are expecting a call, inform the other person before you begin your conversation and warn them that you might have to step away if the call comes in. Do not take other calls.

DO share the conversation equally. You don’t want to hog the conversation talking all about yourself. Nothing is more boring to the other person than your monologue. Instead, ask sincere questions.

DO look for ways to show interest in the other person. Listen for conversation points the other person is making that allow room for additional questions. If the women you’re speaking with starts talking about a play she saw recently, ask questions about that topic like “Where did you see it?” “Would you recommend it?” “What did you like most about it?”

DON’T steal the story. Unfortunately, one person’s topic often sets off a trigger to the listener, who switches the topic to their own experience. Taking the theater example, the first woman might say that she just saw an interesting play. The wrong thing to do is say, “Well, I just saw an interesting play too…” and go on talking about your own experience. After you explore the other person’s subject, you may be able to add your own experiences at the end. Never try to “one-up” the other person’s story. This makes them feel trampled upon.

Related: Someone Stole My Story!

DO try to find a common interest topic. Talk about something you learned at the event, compliment someone’s apparel or accessories, or ask if the other person has had an interesting vacation this year. Don’t start with the boring questions of, “So what do YOU do?” or “Do you have kids?”

DON’T use social time to unload all your troubles, your family’s troubles, your work troubles, or any troubles. Avoid the “taboo” topics of politics, religion and money. Keep the conversation light and interesting. First of all, people you don’t know well don’t care about your troubles, and second, it is a real downer to focus on negative things. You’ll find your conversation partner looking around the room for an escape!

DO keep your focus on your partner. Make eye contact and smile. Angle your body to face the other person as you speak and listen. Don’t scan the room during the conversation looking for something better or fidget while the other person is talking.

Related: 10 Ways to Start and Maintain a Conversation

DO enjoy the conversation. Laugh. Show interest. Engage in verbal interplay. Let your personality shine.

The best conversations leave you thinking about them for days to come. The worst just want to make you run. Which kind of conversationalist do you want to be?


How Do I Address a Former President?


Photo by Pete Souza

In the United States, when one leaves an office where they have had a title, such as President of the United States, it often becomes a protocol dilemma on how to refer to them afterwards. Should you still address him (or her) as Mr. President?

The rules of protocol say no.

The rule is that only one living person may hold the title of President at any one time.

While a sitting president should be addressed as Mr. President during their tenure in office, once they leave office, they should correctly be referred to by the title they held previously. For example, President George Washington was referred to as “General Washington” once he retired. President James Monroe was referred to as “Colonel Monroe.”

A deceased President, however, may be referred to using the title “President” before their name, as in “President Washington lived at Mount Vernon.”

This said, many former (and living) Presidents today are addressed as merely that: “Former President,” followed by their name. If, however you are formally addressing them, as in a written correspondence, it is never incorrect to use “Mr.” before their name.

Befuddled by the Flatware at a Formal Dinner?

formal-place-setting-silverwareMiss Meredith Sweetpea loves to attend a formal dinner. All the courses, with their delightful tastes, are just a pleasure to enjoy.

Attending a formal dinner, however, can befuddle some who are not familiar with the array of flatware (a.k.a. silverware) that is set upon the table. Often you’ll see a variety of forks, knives and spoons set beside and above the plate setting, along with a number of drinking glasses.

According to Miss Manners Judith Martin, when it comes to silverware,”Ten would be the maximum number of complements that could be on the table at the same time: a seafood (or cocktail) fork (nestling in the soup spoon); the soup spoon; sets of forks and knives for three courses (usually fish, meat, and salad and/or cheese; if more are needed for additional courses, they should be brought in separately); and a dessert spoon and fork above the plate.”

“A teaspoon has no place at a formal table because tea and coffee are not served during the meal; after-dinner coffee, formally served in a drawing room in a demi-tasse cup, requires the small spoon. If people do wish to drink coffee at the table, for example, the appropriate spoon should be put on the saucer.”

Which Utensil Do I Use for Which Course?

As a rule, silverware should be used from the outside in. In other words, the pieces farthest away from the plate on either side of it should be used first. After each course in a formal dinner, the used silverware should be placed upon the plate to be taken away, leaving the next set of flatware available on the outside of the serving plate. Soup spoons are often served on the plate with the soup, a butter knife usually rests on your bread plate to the left of your forks, and dessert utensils are generally placed above the plate and should remain there until the dessert arrives.

Follow the Host

If you are still befuddled by the array of flatware, the simple rule is to watch the host and do what he or she does.

–excerpted from “Miss Manners’ Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium,” by Judith Martin.



How to Signal to the Waitstaff That You are Done Eating


Fork and knife placement signaling the end of the meal – American style.

Miss Meredith Sweetpea had the rare pleasure of dining out this past weekend with a dear friend. We went to a local Italian restaurant, of the mid-range variety, nothing fancy.

This friend had plenty to talk about, and we were settling into a wonderful conversation as the courses began to arrive, but began to become annoyed by the constant interruption of the server. It seemed whenever we paused and put down our forks, and even while we were eating,  someone came over to grab the plate away–even though we obviously were not finished.

At first, the servers reached down to grab the plates and began to remove them without asking. We had to grab our plates back as they swooped past. After a few times of this, they at least began to ask if we were done yet. In addition, at two times, the managers stopped by our table to see how things were going. They too, grabbed at our plates.

At first, we laughed about the constant interruptions. Then they began to irritate us. What then should have been an enjoyable time out together, was spoiled. We took the rest of our meals to go. Continue reading

Socially Speaking about Politics

talking-politicsHere in America you can’t get away from talk about politics. It’s everywhere: on the media, in the workplace, and around the dinner table. 2016 is a highly-charged election year.

All this talk about politics, however, leads Miss Meredith Sweetpea to consider the social rule that politics is one of those subjects not to be discussed in polite social conversation. So how do we talk about it…if we must? Here are several rules to keep in mind:

  1. Keep the conversation light. Don’t get into heavy discussions about whose opinion is right or wrong, or let the conversation escalate into a confrontation.
  2. Respect other people’s opinions. People look at issues through their own backgrounds, experiences and filters, which are always different than your own. Listen respectfully to their opinions and ask why they feel the way they do. It is always enlightening to hear how differently others view the same situations.
  3. Don’t accuse anyone. Just because you are adamant about your own viewpoint doesn’t mean that other people’s views are wrong. Don’t tell them they should feel or think (or vote) the way you do. They are allowed their own choices.
  4. Change the subject. If you are engaging in a lovely dinner party and talk of politics arises, politely change the subject to something more pleasant, like the taste of the butternut squash soup.

In years like this, you simply cannot avoid talking about politics. What you can do is control how and when you do.



To Button or Not to Button a Men’s Jacket

Poised-for-Success-Jacqueline-Whitmore-book-imageMiss Meredith Sweetpea was at a fancy dinner and noticed a disparity amongst the men at her table. Some men buttoned their jacket when they stood, and some did not.

To answer the question, “which is correct,” I referred to leading etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore’s book, Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities that Distinguish Outstanding Professionals. In it, she writes:

“In my Dress for Success seminars, men often ask if they should button up their jackets whenever they stand up, and the answer is “yes.” The jacket should button comfortably without pulling in front (which, unfortunately, can make a stout man appear as if he’s wearing a sausage casing), but when the jacket is a good fit, the look adds polish and panache. Regardless of whether you’re wearing a two- or three-button suit, remember to leave the bottom button unbuttoned.”

Thank you, Jacqueline, for your buttoned-up advice!

Eating Through the Interview | Meredith Sweetpea | Business Etiquette

interview-lunchGood heavens! Miss Meredith Sweetpea has had the unfortunate circumstance of noticing a number of job interviews taking place over lunch. Unfortunate in that she witnessed the most boorish of behaviors!

A job interview held over lunch is not the time to be casual. Your dining habits and your professional skills are being analyzed to see if you are a good fit AND a good representative of the organization. Manners do count.

In one circumstance, Miss Meredith witnessed a gentleman tipping his chair back onto its back legs, picking his teeth with his fingers, and eating with his elbows on the table. After finishing, he stacked his dishes and shoved them to the side.

In another, she saw a gentleman stuffing an entire piece of food into his mouth, when it clearly should have been cut into smaller pieces. Not only did he stuff it with his fork, he then used his fingers to shove the entire piece inside his already-overstuffed maw when it became clear that the fork would not do the trick. And then he tried to talk! My word, what a sight!

In both circumstances, I wonder if the candidate got the job.

Here are some quick rules to eating during a job interview:

How to Ace a Job Interview Lunch

1. Follow what the leader is doing.

If you don’t know what to do, follow what the leader is doing. See what silverware he uses for each course and follow suit, and order what she’s ordering, or something similar. Don’t order the most expensive item on the menu or you’ll be though of as taking a free ride. The exception is if you witness the leader demonstrating bad manners. Do not copy those, but rather, Continue reading

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