I’m quite chatty, so plonk me down next to a stranger and you’ll find we’ll look like old friends, talking in a matter of minutes. I love conversation, the amazing ability to share a piece of your world with someone else. I also like listening and I’m a good listener which has meant that sometimes people find themselves telling me all sorts of things that they themselves didn’t even realise. It’s great that people feel comfortable enough around me to trust me with things which are close to their hearts.
Every week at church I run a team called the Hello team. And, yes you guessed right, it’s exactly that. We say ‘Hello’ and start a conversation. Every week after I have helped on the Hello team I come back with the same impressions on my heart, people are craving meaningful relationships, meaningful and sincere conversation and someone to listen and care about their stories. You don’t always know the difference one conversation can make in someone else’s life.
The Bible reminds us to do this:
“To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people”. Titus 3:2
Often I think we don’t realise how important conversation skills are, or the impact of our words and interactions. We live in a world where people hide behind social media posts and paint pretty pictures of themselves because they can’t accept who they really are. Friendships and marriages last as long as they are convenient. People flit from one thing to the next in a frenzy of distraction, rather than taking the time to actually process life.
Strategies for good conversation
Listen with your heart
If all we ever pay attention to is the words in someone’s mouth, we miss half of the message. Listen to more than just the words someone utters. What is their body language, tone and inflection? Are they closed off or opening up. Are you allowing yourself to be open to them too? When we listen to words alone, we feel the need to hurry up, or respond too quickly or fix the emotion the other person is feeling. You can’t fix people’s problems if you can’t understand them first. Rather slow down and let there be silence. Remember, there is a distinction between intellect and emotion and both are required to really listen with your heart.
Be aware of how much you are talking
Everybody has something of value to say. Constantly be aware of how much you are conversing. It’s not fair to override other people because they are quiet. As a result, when you don’t listen and encourage the others in a group then you lose out on the beautiful insights which they possess. Good conversation skills require sacrifice. Give and take. Everybody has something valid to contribute.
Ask the right questions
“Hit the ball over the fence.” So often we meet someone new and don’t give them the opportunity to share information with us because we don’t ask the right questions. Don’t ask yes/no questions. Don’t respond to questions with minimal answers. Give the other person something to work with. Ask open-ended questions and encourage the person you are talking with to share what they think on a subject. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions. You will never get to the essence of a matter with your first question, people become increasingly revealing, as they are given the opportunity to divulge more and more.
Give positive feedback
Always show the person on the other side that you are listening and engaged. There is nothing worse than trying to engage another person who is looking at their phone, staring out the window or showing no emotion. Make positive affirmative sounds and phrases during the conversation. Look the person in the eye and don’t let your mind wander. I know this can seem rather difficult but like all skills, if you practice you will become better.
I fully believe we were put on the planet to care for each other and conversation is a huge part of that. Go out today and start a conversation, show someone they matter and be brave!