"When it works, conversation can come close to heaven. Be it sharing a laugh with a stranger, transforming a contact into a friend; that joyful moment when you click, share a joke, or spark a new idea; or just letting off steam with someone who knows how to listen there are countless adventures between minds out there, waiting to happen, in each encounter, each day of our lives.
"Networking is part of conversation's value, although the word sounds chilly and strategic. Conversation is something bigger: It is the spontaneous business of making connections, whether for work, friendship, or pure, fleeting pleasure.
"Some writers have argued that it's where the raw stuff of life is spun into art. Speech the gift of provoking thoughts in others' minds by rapidly modulated outtakes of breath is certainly a wonder, and conversation a miracle upon that miracle. Indeed, if evolutionary psychologists are right, it fathered language, out of grooming, the conversation of apes, when our ancestors sat about picking off fleas, flirting, working out who was boss.
"But I find simpler reasons to treasure it. Get on with others, you will get on in life, and enjoy it more. Good talkers get dates, win contracts. They make job interviews fun, whichever side of the desk they are on. Furthermore, the qualities of a satisfying chat vitality, clarity, wit, relish, tact, a light touch are the same as we want of the people around us. Respect the rules of artful conversation and not only are you on your way to being a better person, but learn to steer discussion, to entertain not dominate, and you're on the road to power.
"Conversation is brilliant at both polishing thoughts and frothing up new ones, and although professionalism encourages us to wring the maximum from meetings in minimum time, serendipity produces many of the best ideas. Since information flows better through stories than through year-end reports, censoring gossip whether at the water cooler or on email can dull a business's cutting edge.
"Just as monarchs had their favorites and Arab rulers their salaried nadim ('cup companions') with whom to trade jokes and keep track of the court's mood, not to mention boost their own, so productivity and morale shot up when a Puerto Rican tobacco company started paying a cigar roller the same hourly rate to down tools, sit in the middle of the work area, read papers aloud, chatter, and clown.
"There are other benefits. Paul McCartney loves talking as well as crooning to audiences because 'I remember stuff that I'd forgotten for thirty years in explaining it.' Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer, a 103-year-old concert pianist, would agree. Asked about her fizzing social life, she confided she wasn't avid to hear about 'lives and problems' purely out of altruism or curiosity: 'This is good for the brain . . . better than a hundred pills.'
"How come she was so skilled at conversation? 'Chamber music is a discussion with your partner. You have to listen.'
"More than words, conversation is music: Its harmony, rhythm, and flow transcend communication, flexing mind and heart, tuning us for companionship."