12 Rules for Civil Conversation

Every day we have the opportunity to engage in civil conversation with a stranger. While it may seem daunting, there are rules that can help you navigate this delicate and sometimes tense topic.

The “Victorian conversation etiquette” is a set of twelve rules for civil conversation. The guidelines include things like not interrupting, being respectful to others, and not talking too loudly.

Vintage young men sitting around talking in a room.

The following principles for decent dialogue were published in 1692 in a letter to his children by the eminent English lawyer Matthew Hale. It’s incredible how nicely they’ve held up over three centuries! (The original text has been condensed and re-formatted.) 

1. Never speak for a truth that you know or suspect to be untrue. Lying is a grave violation against mankind, because there can be no secure community amongst men if there is no concern for the truth. And it is harmful to the speaker because, in addition to the embarrassment it causes, it causes such a state of mind in him that he finds it difficult to tell the truth or resist lying, even when there is no need for it. He eventually reaches the point where, just as others can’t believe he’s telling the truth, he can’t recognize when he’s telling a lie.

2. You must avoid approaching near it because you must be cautious not to lie. You must not equivocate, nor talk favourably about something for which you have no authority other than report, speculation, or opinion.

3. Keep your remarks to a minimum, lest you miss out on the chance to gather information, wisdom, and experience by listening to others whom your “impertinent speech” has silenced.

4. In your chat, don’t be overly serious, loud, or aggressive. Instead of using noise to silence your opponent, use logic.

5. Don’t interrupt another person when he is speaking. Listen to him out, and you’ll be able to better comprehend him and respond to him.

6. Think before you speak, particularly if the situation is urgent. Consider the meaning of what you want to say and the language you want to use. Inconsiderate people do not think until after they have said; else they talk first, then ponder.

7. When you’re in the presence of light, conceited, impolite people, let their flaws make you more careful, both in your interaction with them and in your whole demeanor, so that you don’t repeat their mistakes.

8. Make sure you’re not praising yourself. If your own tongue has to laud you, it’s an indication that your reputation is modest and fading.

9. Praise the absent whenever the chance presents itself. Never say anything bad about them or anybody else unless you are certain they deserve it and it is required for their correction or the safety and welfare of others.

10. Do not make fun of a person’s physical condition or inherent flaws. Offenses of this kind make a lasting effect.

11. Be extremely cautious not to say anything that is reprehensible, threatening, or hateful to anybody. When flaws are pointed out, do it without resentment or malice. Otherwise, instead of mending the offender, the reproach would exasperate the offender and leave the reprover vulnerable to reproof.

12. Rather than being motivated to anger by someone who is furious and uses foul language, pity him. You will discover that the finest retaliation for reproaches is quiet or extremely mild comments. They will either heal the furious man and make him regret his fury, or they will be a painful rebuke and punishment for him. But, in any case, they’ll retain your innocence, give you a reputation for wisdom and moderation, and keep your mind calm and collected.




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“The 12 Rules for Civil Conversation” is a book written by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. in 1978. It is a collection of 12 rules that are meant to help people have civil conversations with one another. Reference: how to speak vintage.

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