A very clever article titled How to Be Polite. This was the one piece of direct advice offered which I thought was quite sound:
Here’s a polite person’s trick, one that has never failed me. I will share it with you because I like and respect you, and it is clear to me that you’ll know how to apply it wisely: When you are at a party and are thrust into conversation with someone, see how long you can hold off before talking about what they do for a living. And when that painful lull arrives, be the master of it. I have come to revel in that agonizing first pause, because I know that I can push a conversation through. Just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: “Wow. That sounds hard.”
And I like it not because it is false, but because it will do what I want done in a conversation, which is to get someone else to talk about themselves in a way that will interest us both.