The Art of Conversation
The Apostle Paul wrote, “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). What are some traits of a gracious, winsome conversationalist?
Winsome conversationalists ask a few questions to get conversations started. When Jesus talked with people, he mostly asked them questions. The eighth chapter of Mark’s Gospel records 16 questions that Jesus asked people. When you meet someone ask couple of become-acquainted questions. Most people will appreciate your interest and friendliness.
Winsome conversationalists take a sincere interest in others. “Let love be genuine” (Romans 12:10). Some people talk about themselves too much and show little interest in others. Years ago, I arranged for a date between two friends who had both lost their spouses. I’ll call them Clair and Al. The three of us met at Mamma Lucia’s Restaurant for lunch, where I made introductions. Al was at no loss for words. He talked about himself effortlessly for over an hour. Clair was gracious and asked Al several questions about himself. Al did not ask Clair a single question. Some days later, Al called Clair and asked her to dinner. Clair, thinking that perhaps Al got off to an awkward start, accepted the invitation. Again, Al talked non-stop about his favorite person. Wanting to give Al the benefit of the doubt, Clair agreed to another date. Finally, at the end of that dinner, Clair said, “Al, I know all about you, but you don’t know a thing about me.” Al, unaware of his colossal self-absorption, assured Clair, “Oh, that’s okay.” Way to go, Al. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).
Winsome conversationalists listen. James writes, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak” (1:19). Most of us talk too much and listen too little. We formulate our responses while others are speaking rather than attending to their words. In this area I can learn a lot from my wife. She looks wide-eyed at the speaker, leans forward, nods, reflects that she understands, and asks questions for clarification.
Winsome conversationalists do not speak at length on a subject without discerning the other’s interest level. If, upon meeting a stranger, you hold forth on the classifications of tomatoes, the benefits of the Paleo Diet, or the treatment plan for your mother’s carpal tunnel syndrome, I think I know why people have been avoiding you. Try to pick up on cues that your conversation partners offer about their interest in the subject that you chose to speak on. Do they ask you any questions? Do they interject comments? Are their eyes glazing over? Did they pass out and crack their head on the floor? “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2).
Winsome conversationalists understand that conversation involves an exchange of information, ideas, opinions, and feelings. I have told my kids that talking to people is like tossing a tennis ball back and forth. If I toss you a tennis ball, you should toss it back. In some encounters, I find myself throwing ten tennis balls to a person who never throws one back. Don’t stand there like a post. Make an effort. “Consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).
Skill in conversation begins with a heart that genuinely cares for others. That’s something that God instills in us when we trust in Christ as the one who died in our place to pay the penalty for our sin. God promises not only to forgive us, but to change us from the inside-out. Looking forward to the coming of Christ, God promised in the Old Testament, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26).
Peter Kemeny, Pastor
Good News Presbyterian Church
P.O. Box 1051, Frederick, MD 21702