DOROTHY NEVILL ONCE SAID “The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place, but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

Author Mark McCormack stressed that powers of observation are critical to success. How observant are you? Can you answer these questions without looking?

Two letters of the alphabet don’t appear on your telephone keypad. What are they? What is your license plate number? How much money do you have in your wallet right now?

Not only can being aware save your life, an observant driver has a better chance of escaping an accident, but it can also give you an advantage in business. This is also important for high school and college students who are looking for an advantage.

McCormack said most people become preoccupied with their own thoughts when they are in the company of others. They miss valuable cues that can lead to insight into solutions to problems.

The skills of observation aren’t hard to master. In a conversation, note whether the other person’s eyes are widening or narrowing. Is the other person leaning forward or back? Most people lean forward when they want to communicate and back when they’re thinking.

To observe, focus on the other person, wrote McCormack. Make mental notes of facial expressions and postures, and evaluate them. What kinds of words is the person using? Observation will guide you to choose the appropriate vocabulary.

If you’re dealing with a group of people, watch their eye contact as you speak. You’ll notice the kind of impression your statements make and who in the group is really in charge. It may not be the one with the title.

When you make a general statement, all eyes will look to one person to answer. That will usually be the person with the authority or power. Use the information you observe to form bonds and stabilize relationships.

If you’re shy or introverted, paying attention to other people can help you get over your shyness. Before you know it, you’ll be so involved with observing you’ll forget your own feelings of self-consciousness. You’ll develop a genuine interest in other people, and you’ll be more outgoing and friendly.

People notice and respond enthusiastically to friends who give that little bit extra attention and you can probably count on them for help when you need it. Yogi Berra once said “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

“The benefits to be gained by simple observation are many,” said McCormack. So learn to use your senses to read the world around you. And by the way, the letters q and z don’t appear on the telephone keypad.

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I’LL HAVE TO admit that I’ve never heard of columnist Nick Thomas before, but about seven years ago, I came across a column he wrote in which he took a look at hypochondriacs in his “Along These Lines” column.

Hypochondria is a persistent fear or belief that one has a serious, undiagnosed medical illness. It is a mental health condition. It affects up to 5% of medical outpatients. Just worrying about health becomes an illness.

Thomas said “You might be a hypochondriac if . . .

• You’re afraid to go fishing in case you catch something; you continually pester your pharmacist to email you when the Food and Drug Administration approves a home, do-it-yourself colonoscopy kit.

• On vacations, you check into the nearest hospital before the hotel.

• Your favorite reference web site is “Sickipedia.”

• You plan on attending Hypochondriac Anonymous meetings, but always phone in sick; you dread going to the supermarket in case a cashier asks if you’re ready to check out.

• You have more doctors than friends. And every birthday, you treat yourself to a spa, massage and MRI.

• There are some TV shows you can never watch like “Deadliest Catch.”

• You swear you heard the doctor whisper to the nurse “We’ll know more after the autopsy.”

• Drug dealers regularly visit your home, but they’re from Pfizer, Merck or Johnson & Johnson.

• You wear a medical gown to bed; you live in fear of back injury whenever you jump to conclusions.

• You don’t believe laughter is the best medicine; it’s morphine; you’re too scared to use Preparation H because you wonder what was wrong with preparations A-G.

• You believe you suffer from several previously unknown ailments including Mississippi ladybug fever, fatal late-night TV insomnia, bookworm, lemon-lime disease and irritable spouse syndrome.

• And you might just be a hypochondriac if you ask to be buried with a first-aid kit.”