By Amber Kinloch
People are starved for good conversation. Whether they know it or not, many are longing for something beyond the surface level encounters typical between modern people. Yet how to strike deeper?
Good news: It’s not rocket science. There are practical skills you can apply to stir up real conversations, ones that establish deeper bonds with other people.
Before we get there, though, let’s consider something.
Why Is Conversation Important?
The most obvious reason is that it’s necessary for social communication. From the child garbling out his first words, to businessmen arranging a deal, to leaders making war and peace, we all use words to communicate our needs, wants, and desires. The better we express ourselves, the better we’ll get on in life.
For Christians, things strike deeper. We’re called to imitate Jesus, the Word made Flesh. No one’s ever spoken so well as Him.
Consider Jesus’ appreciation for conversation. For Him, it was a natural channel for spreading the Gospel. Think of His encounters with Nicodemus, the Samaritan Woman, the Apostles, and his friends Mary and Martha. His words—recorded for all of us to read—changed their lives and can change ours too.
And what of us? How often have we been broken or built up by another’s words? How often have we done the same to others? Does the thought of the power of words pierce us as it should?
But I’ve No Talent for Conversation…
News flash—neither did I, or so I thought. But I was tired of having boring conversations with people and was determined to break past the surface. Now meaningful conversations with others are becoming the norm for me. You can experience the same thing by practicing the secret to good conversation:
Active Listening—5 Practical Tips
- Be quiet. It sounds obvious. Yet how often do we interrupt another person while they’re speaking?
- Be attentive. Pay attention to their body language and what they’re really saying. Don’t let your eyes wander round the room or stray to your phone.
- Express interest. Ask thoughtful questions (prep ones beforehand if need be) centered on the other person. Ideas include: why they love their job (or not), their life goals, what they’re yearning for most right now, etc.
- Seek to understand. Actively look at things from their perspective instead of yours.
- Look for the good. Be generous in offering praise, encouragement, and thanks. Goodness knows we could use more of those.
- Cultivate a warm manner. This doesn’t mean you have to run up and greet them with a hug and a huge smile. Personally, I’m not fond of hugs. My smiles, likewise, often feel more like grimaces. Rather, I focus on keeping a pleasant tone. It’s simple and makes a world of difference, especially when people are tired or grumpy.
Be vulnerable. Share something deeper about yourself that you think will pique your companion’s interest—a funny, embarrassing story; how you struggle with school, depression, etc.; or your greatest joy or disappointment this week. Then ask them a question about themselves related to this subject. You’ll be surprised by how often they open up.
Errors to Guard Against
- Talking excessively about yourself or boring/irritating subjects. At best, you’ll drain the other person. At worst, you’ll land in an argument.
- Excessive silence. Listening is good, but you need to show some signs of interest; else you’ll come across as awkward, indifferent, or even cold-hearted.
- Vulgar or irreverent language. It’s one thing to drop the occasional curse word, quite another to have your speech jam-packed with them.
What about Others who are Poor Conversationalists?
It’s inevitable. No matter how much effort you put in, you’ll come across people with whom it seems to make no difference. They don’t listen, or they’re a wellspring of negativity. In this case, consider:
- Is the person toxic?
- Bitter from much suffering?
- Lonely and in genuine need of attention?
Evaluate and take appropriate action. Some might be open to correction. (“__, you’ve been talking this whole time without stopping to pay attention to me. Do you mind listening to what happened to me today?”) Others might not change and perhaps simply need a listener. (This is often the case with the elderly.) Others, perhaps, are using you as a dumping ground. In this case, it’s appropriate to act boldly and cut them off. Relationships are not a one-way street.
It Takes Time
One doesn’t become a great conversationalist overnight. It takes time like with any skill. It’s a worthwhile one, though, and a necessary one. God calls us to sanctify all ordinary realities, including our speech. By doing so, we transform ourselves, glorifying Him and showing our love for Him and our neighbor.
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.