DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was told to "to take a course in communication" in reference to the way I have conversations. An acquaintance loudly informed me that when they initiate a conversation about their day, it is my job to only listen and agree.
But what if I do not agree? Am I just to sit there and pretend? I'm not quite sure how to handle this. I know that one shouldn't give advice when it is not asked for, but am I not supposed to speak unless prompted?
Please fill me in on the proper way to respond (or not respond). It seems I am in dying need of Communication 101.
GENTLE READER: Your loud acquaintance was giving advice that was not requested, which, as you point out, is rude. Therefore, Miss Manners -- whom you did ask -- advises you to dismiss their claim to knowing proper behavior.
The notion that you should always show agreement with others is based on an inability to conceive that it is possible to disagree politely. Indeed, that does seem to be a lost art.
Conversation is not an opportunity to critique the speaker, and it does require listening respectfully to opinions with which you may disagree. Yet if that were all you did, perhaps throwing in an occasional "uh-huh," it wouldn't be a conversation; it would be a lecture. Both parties should contribute, and sometimes that will take the form of offering another point of view.
Never mind about taking a course. Just memorize a few lines:
"Really? Why do you think that?"
"My experience has been different."
"Have you considered that ...?"
"Well, but look at it this way ..."
And so on. Just avoid any version of, "What are you -- stupid?"