This Guide clearly cannot tell you exactly what to say, what words to use, in a flirtatious conversation, but it is possible to provide some general guidelines on what you talk about, and how you express yourself, particularly in terms of mistakes and pitfalls to avoid.

Negativity, for example, is real turn-off. If you talk too much about the bad side of things, and constantly complain about the world or your own problems, your partner will soon get bored and fed up. Other characteristics that research has identified as particularly boring or off-putting include self-preoccupation (talking too much about yourself and showing too little interest in others), banality (only talking about superficial things, repeating hackneyed jokes and stories), tediousness (talking too slowly, pausing too long, taking too long to make a point), passivity (failing to take full part in the conversation or express opinions), lack of enthusiasm (talking in a monotone, not making eye-contact, expressing too little emotion), over-seriousness (using a serious tone of voice and expression, even when your partner is trying to be light-hearted or humorous) and over-excitement (easily sidetracked, engaging in too much meaningless chatter, too much slang).

Compliments, on the other hand, are almost universally welcomed, and do not have to be witty or original. In an analysis of 600 verbatim compliments, linguists found that they tend to follow a tried-and-tested formula, with the word "nice" occurring in nearly 25% of the compliments studied, and the word "you" in almost 75%. In other words, you should not be afraid of paying simple, unflowery compliments such as "That's a nice jacket" or "That colour really suits you", as they can be very effective.

Clearly, excessive use of compliments will make you seem ingratiating, and your partner may become bored with too much suffocating niceness, but of all the ways you can bore someone, studies have shown that this is the least offensive.

Males should, however, avoid paying women embarrassing or potentially offensive compliments. This is not a matter of 'political correctness', but of basic social skills. Some men need to learn that it is entirely possible to convey to a female friend or acquaintance that you find her physically attractive, without being crass or intrusive.

A simple, admiring comment such as "You look lovely (or pretty, or stunning)" is enough. Anything more explicit will only cause embarrassment or offence. The body-language must be right as well: address the compliment to her face, not to her chest, and without leering or what the Americans call 'elevator eyes' (eyes travelling up and down the body).

Timing is equally important: there are times, places and situations where any comment on a woman's appearance, however innocent, would be inappropriate and potentially

Achieving this reciprocity requires an understanding of the etiquette of turn-taking, knowing when to take your turn, as well as when and how to 'yield the floor' to your partner. So, how do you know when it is your turn to speak? Pauses are not necessarily an infallible guide - one study found that the length of the average pause during speech was 0.807 seconds, while the average pause between speakers was shorter, only 0.764 seconds. In other words, people clearly used signals other than pauses to indicate that they had finished speaking.

In previous sections of the Guide, we have described in detail the various non-verbal signals people use to show that they have finished what they are saying, and that it is your turn to speak. These include eye-contact signals (remember that people look away more when they are speaking, so when they look back at you, this often indicates that it is your turn) and vocal signals such as rising or falling intonation, with a drop in volume. This may be accompanied by verbal 'turn-yielding' signals, such as the completion of a clause or 'tailing off into meaningless expressions such as "you know".

As a general rule, the more of these turn-yielding cues occur simultaneously, the more likely it is that your partner has finished and expects you to speak. Watching and listening for these clues will help you to avoid interrupting, and also to avoid

offensive. It is not possible to list all these situations here, but as a rule-of-thumb, only comment on a woman's appearance a) if you know her well enough (this kind of compliment should not be used as an opening line, but only at a much later stage in flirtatious conversation) and b) at times, places and situations where appearance is relevant - i.e. where it would be acceptable to comment on a man's appearance. If the situation is not one in which you would compliment a male acquaintance on his flattering new jacket or haircut, do not comment on a female's appearance either.

(Males please note: 80% of women think that they are too fat. In one American survey, women were asked what were the three words they would most like to hear from a male partner. The most common answer was not, as expected, "I love you", but "You've lost weight". While you should not make any comment on a woman's figure unless you know her well, this compliment might please a girlfriend or close female friend.)

Continue reading here: Listening

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