The etiquette of making conversation

Using good manners is still a part of our culture. Here are some tips for making conversation using good manners.

People sitting around a table smiling.

Michigan State University Extension frequently fosters communication skills amongst 4-H members and volunteers. Good manners are important elements of communicating effectively. They are important to everyday interactions as well as maintaining a positive work environment. In an article from Northeastern University, “When it comes to working in an office or other professional setting, etiquette matters. How you present yourself and interact with those around you—whether your coworkers, supervisors, or direct reports—speaks to who you are as a person and as a member of the team, and can directly influence the trajectory of your career.”

Using good manners puts others before you and is a sign of respect and courtesy. Etiquette implies polite behavior and can help build relationships with people, whether it is applied in the workplace or at a social gathering. As some work environments move towards more informal workspaces and open space, good manners become more important to building teamwork and positive communications amongst coworkers. Here are some tips to making conversations using good manners:

  • Make “please” and “thank you” part of your daily conversation.
  • When someone says, “Thank you,” say “you’re welcome” in response.
  • Avoid awkward words such as um, huh, hmm, nah and yeah. Instead, pause and think before speaking.
  • Keep your tone of voice pleasant.
  • Take care with “friendly put-downs” that actually tend to hurt and are not really funny like you intend, i.e. “shut up” or “so what.”
  • Break the ice by asking questions such as, “Where are you from?” or “What are your hobbies?”
  • Take turns talking and avoid telling long stories or sharing too many details.
  • If you are on a cell phone in a public place, find a quiet place you can continue the conversation or keep your voice down so that the entire area does not have to hear your conversation.
  • When leaving a message on an answering machine or voicemail, speak clearly; always indicate your name, who you are calling for and why you are calling.
  • Be a good listener by nodding your head and making eye contact.
  • Comment on what the other person has said.
  • Do not interrupt while someone else is talking.
  • Depending on the generation you are communicating with, consider not emailing, texting or talking on electronic devices while conversing with someone. For many, this is interpreted as disrespectful.

Putting these tips into practice will enhance new conversations and strengthen relationships with friends and coworkers.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development helps to prepare young people for successful futures. For more information or resources on career exploration, workforce preparation, financial education, or youth entrepreneurship, email us at

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