It was one of those spring days.
The sun smiled warmly, and the air carried the fragrance of flowers. Perfect day for a bridal shower.
As the guests trickled in, I began to feel like a paperclip in the safety pin tin. I quickly realized this was due to the fact that there were very few people present with whom I was even distantly acquainted. The ladies mingled, chatting and laughing familiarly, while I stood awkwardly on the fringes of conversation.
My sweet friend Anna (the bride-to-be) had not yet arrived, so I knew that immediate action on my part would be required if I wanted to avoid further social discomfort. I stepped closer to one of the smaller clusters and slid into the dialogue.
“So how do you ladies know Anna…?”
Later on, after the future-bride had appeared and guests were seated, I sat at a lovely luncheon table surrounded by women who were total strangers. An uneasy silence hung over us like an invisible chandelier.
In that moment, I decided to be brave.
I decided to end the misery. I decided to be the one to make this fun. Trying to address them in a casual, friendly manner, I started out by asking their names. Proper responses given, the conversation once again fell flat. I geared up, pulled out my mental list of questions, and started asking. Pretty soon, the entire table was prattling merrily and (I’m sure) sighing inwardly with relief.
“You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” -Winnie the Pooh
This seemingly obvious yet profoundly difficult truth has become more and more apparent to me in the last few years. Since entering my twenty-somethings, I’ve noticed a tragic lack of conversational skills among my peers.
There’s a troubling trend among talkers nowadays that looks like this:
“I was at the mall the other day and…”
“Yeah, that reminds me of when…”
“That’s like this morning when I woke up…”
“I was driving east and…”
Do you see what’s happening here? Nothing but a mutual exchange of ME.
This is a comparative-conversation, as opposed to an investment-conversation. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
I’m not saying that we should never tell a fun story or share a personal experience, but we should certainly cultivate a heart of service in conversation.
So I’m about to give you the secret key to being comfortable in almost any social setting you may encounter. Are you ready? Here it is:
I’ve been blessed with wise parents who understand the art of conversation. They know that having good social skills isn’t about being an extrovert. My mother, especially, is an expert question-asker. She learned this from her parents, who traveled around the world as missionaries, asking questions as they went. They talked with waitresses, ambassadors, busboys, you name it.
Everywhere they journeyed, they were always interested in people. And guess what? People loved them.
Dale Carnegie, in his book How To Win Friends And Influence People, wrote,
“To be interesting, be interested.”
Also, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
So, you may be wondering, is the point of this entire post just about getting people to like you? Of course the answer is, no! The whole point is to serve Christ by serving others through the art of conversation.
After all, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24).
The natural by-product of serving others in conversation is their mutual interest in you!
Do you like being the awkward wallflower girl, standing there rubbing your shoes together and wishing you could just melt into the carpet? Of course not! Nobody does! That’s why it’s so important for us, as ambassadors of Christ, to know how to talk to people, and to make them feel like the loved, valued, important image-bearers that they are.
Besides, it’s super fun to talk with an experienced communicator! My mom always says, “A great conversation should be like a game of tennis. I hit the ‘ball’ (question) over to you, then you answer and hit the ‘ball’ back to me (with another question).”
But if you’re trying to converse with someone who hasn’t developed this skill, chances are you’ll need some help.
Here are 3 Practical Tips:
1) Create your own “mental list” of questions.
Try to avoid short-answer questions. Think of questions that will require longer explanations.
- What occupies you from day to day?
- Where do you go to church?
- What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
- Where do you work?
2) Listen well and ask follow-up questions.
Pay attention when your question is being answered. Pick something that’s mentioned and ask a more specific question about that thing.
- Oh, and how long have you been doing that?
- What do you like about your church?
- How did you become interested in that?
- Do you see yourself working there long-term? Why or why not?
3) Be sensitive.
Sometimes people (especially the shy ones) can feel like they’re being interrogated if you’re firing question after question. Don’t run them over like a bulldozer.
- Be aware of body language and facial expressions that signal discomfort.
- Volunteer information about yourself if they don’t know how to ask questions in return.
- Be careful about getting too personal too quickly, especially with guys.
- Maintain good eye contact (without being creepy!), showing that you’re engaged in their responses.
Personally, I love great conversations! I’m not perfect by any means, but what I have learned has truly transformed my relationships and life. I’m convinced that if you develop the art of conversation, it will take your relationships to a level you never thought possible.
Let’s chat about this a little bit more in the comments section below…
- Do you struggle with social awkwardness or feelings of insecurity around strangers?
- Are you glorifying God and serving others with your social skills?
- Where can you practice the art of conversation in the next couple weeks?
*This guest post was written by our sweet friend, Elizabeth Halcomb. If you’re interested in writing a guest post for us check out this page.
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