"How To Talk With Anybody About Practically Anything"

How To Talk With Anybody About Practically Anything by Barbara Walters

I am an introvert, so the title of this book sounded to me like a ticket to the promised land. Thinking it was like all the other "How To" books I've read, I was ready for lists of techniques to practice, neat little instructions, maybe even illustrations. 

I missed one crucial little fact: Barbara Walters is an extrovert. To an extrovert "How To Talk With Anybody About Practically Anything" means "How To Be Delightful And Interesting And Charming At All Times".  Sure, that'll happen. I need somebody to tell me what to do; this book is about how to be.

Not that there isn't helpful information; Barbara Walters has mastered the art of conversation and she's willing to share what she's learned. When I went back through the book to look at the things I'd underlined, I did indeed end up with a list, not of things to do, but of things to remember about how people need to be treated.

In the first half of the book it becomes clear that her "secret" is simply caring about people. She believes it is her responsibility to make people comfortable. Whether she's doing an interview or talking to someone at a party, her priority is making sure the other person is left both feeling and looking good. What her philosophy boils down to is that one should never embarrass, criticize, insult or even inconvenience anyone else, to always allow them to save face, feel good about themselves and keep their dignity. Is it any wonder people respond so well?

Passages like this one sum it up quite well:

"People bursting with good will and an abundance of mental health are charming company; their need for ego-boosting, however, is minimal.  People sinking into self-pity and depression are dreary, but they can't get out of it by themselves. So every now and then, just sit there and listen, and listen, and listen. You're paying your membership dues in the human race." 

The second half of the book was a hoot. She talks about makeup, hair and clothes, but the book was published in 1970 so her suggestions are 42 years out of date. It was a blast from the past reading her advice about sending party invitations, how to properly thank your hostess, arranging seating at a dinner party, whether or not to have a receiving line at your party and even how to arrange for a guest lecturer and how to behave if you are one. This section is Etiquette 101, for a specific class of people in a specific time and place. It was wonderfully entertaining for  someone who has never associated with the rich and famous, never visited New York City let alone lived there and who gets to read all of it with 42 years hindsight.

In the end I did get what I wanted from this book. Talking to people - family, friends or strangers - is not about technique, it's about caring. People know when they are being respected, and when they are just being tolerated, and every person ever born needs to feel they are being taken seriously. This book is worth reading just to be reminded of that. Sure it's dated, but the truths in it will never be out of date. And besides that, it was just plain fun.


Red said...

This sounds wonderful, if only for the 42 year old etiquette advice. Or rather, I bet this book would be worth the read for just that part alone, but it's like an extra bonus that it is more than that.

Ordinary Reader said...

I think you'd enjoy it. There are lots of little tidbits about the rich and famous people she rubbed shoulders with too and that makes it even more interesting!

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