Maybe, like me, you are in need of a refresher course in “making conversation.” There are more and more times when I am finding myself around real, living people. And maybe a conversation that “goes south” becomes something that you review in your mind, over and over, as you try to figure out how you contributed to the exchange that didn’t flow just right.

Met a new neighbor, she was lovely, and I thought we were having a perfectly fun conversation. Then it turned, ending with me agitated and confused, and I might have yelled something like, “You don’t know who you are talking to,” which is embarrassing and silly when I think about it. 

I’ve reviewed our exchange using the tips available in a quick Google search, and wonder how to mend it:

1. Ask questions (shows you’re paying attention and interested)

Where did you move from? Welcome to the quiet side of town; it is a secret and just a lovely place to come home to. Do you like it here? We have lots of goldfinches, possum, skunk and occasionally deer over here; have you had any wildlife visitors to your new yard? 

2. Avoid controversial topics (know your audience — there are lots of landmines here)

Yes, I am familiar with the architect that built your previous home in Oak Park and actually was one of the House Captains of that walk the year your house was on the house walk; it was beautiful. Politely chose not to mention that E.E. Roberts is the architect whose craft is under the addition at Field Stevenson, and only some of the architecture can be seen from Ferdinand. Identify that she likely does not know how the grade centers work, therefore she may not be ready for the Shark theme song from Field Stevenson. 

3.   Keep a positive attitude

Yes, I am so glad that your children are grown and successful; they are perfect and you deserve to have the pride you’re showcasing; it is wonderful. 

4. Smile

Ear to ear. Lots of nodding too. Solid. 

5. Compliment (caution: avoid controversial compliments or back-handed ones)

Well, you have a beautiful home and it is in a terrific neighborhood. Yes, that fence you put up really frames the property, and will create privacy from people waiting for the bus in the morning. Politely choose not to mention any of the critical remarks about Oak Park that disparage the people and village. Laser in on the positive and the here and now. 

6. Don’t come on too strong 

Shucks. It was the casual, unsolicited, disparaging remarks about Proviso high schools that caught me off guard, like what she was saying was as easy and breezy. This was the tipper. 

7. Ask for advice or recommendations 

Advice and recommendations were offered, and you know what, I didn’t ask. 

But she is not an anomaly, she will find her tribe in Forest Park. Robert Frost said it well, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” and likely she will be gracious when the sidewalks are plowed at her corner lot; she will be tickled and every week when she puts out her garbage and yard waste without stickers, and when her tax bill arrives, she will delight. 

When the comforting sounds of a backyard party is humming, or children cruise by on their bikes or the morning joggers pass by her window, she will feel right at home. As she really gets to know her new community, she will appreciate the authenticity and charm. 

But when it comes to her new township, Proviso, good fences make good neighbors. 

The mending is on hold.