I think it’s safe to say that for the majority of us, during these past four months, we’ve had far less conversations than we had a year ago during the same time. The very definition of quarantine implies a level of isolation and we have all felt this to one degree or another throughout the spring and now into summer. As we, Lord willing, begin to see a turn towards a level of regathering on different fronts and in different ways, I can’t help but wonder how our conversation skills will hold up. Many of us have engaged in large quantities of social media, which has a way of making us feel connected…but doing so without an actual conversation. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other outlets can be great ways to share information, but sharing is not the same thing as conversing. And the written word is not the same as the spoken word.
A conversation is “the informal exchange of ideas by spoken words”.
An exchange is the giving and receiving of something of the same kind. So when it comes to conversations, it’s the giving and receiving of ideas by spoken word. It’s like a volleyball game with words or a ping pong match depending on how fast you talk. ; ) If the volleyball is served across the net, it’s expected to come back within a few hits, not stay on the other side for the duration of the game.
With all the shutdowns and restrictions of the last several months, it’s possible that we may have grown a bit rusty in how to “play” this exciting game of words. Through social media, we’ve grown used to putting out information without the exchange of information in return. It’s comfortable and it’s fun…but it is not a conversation. It’s a monologue. And while monologues may be appropriate at times, our ordinary conversations should be dialogues. We should strive for exchange.
So, how do we improve our conversations or, at the very least, shake the rust off? How do we play conversational volleyball that is both encouraging and stimulating? There are two things, in particular, that have been of great help to me: knowing my audience and asking good questions.
1) Know your audience.
Is the person you are speaking to a grandmother or mother in the faith, or is she a sister or daughter in the faith? Here’s why it makes a big difference. If you are talking to a grandma or mother in the faith, you want to listen more than you talk. You want to learn from their experiences, and glean and grow as they share the joys and trials the Lord has brought them through. It will bless your heart greatly to see yourself as the student and them as the teacher. If you are talking to a daughter in the faith, you have a great opportunity to speak life to her heart. You will probably find yourself talking a bit more as you seek to pour into her through sharing who God is, what He has done, and the promises she can rest in as she walks a road you once walked yourself. Lastly, you have sisters in Christ. These are women that are typically in your season of life. Maybe your bellies are growing together or maybe you are wiping tears away at the same time as you see the last of your kids leave home and learn what it means to have an empty nest. Those conversations should be a fantastic volleyball match of back and forth as you share and bear the joys and burdens, pointing each other to Christ. And in each and every conversation, you should always seek to “outdo one another in showing honor”(Romans 12:10) by giving them the “volleyball” as often as you can! (If you are talking to an unbeliever, these same truths can often apply in a broader sense, but I’ll write more about that in a future post)
2) Ask good questions.
All good conversations are made up of questions. Questions show care, concern, a desire to know, to learn, and to understand another person. Questions show the person that they are important to you. They show interest in what is going on in their life. Questions create follow up conversations and bring opportunities to pray for and with someone. Questions are the fuel of every good conversation, so it’s helpful to think of four or five questions you could ask before you meet with someone. Those questions can vary immensely depending on the depth of your relationship and how long you have known each other…but it’s always good to have a few “waiting in the wings”.
- What were your growing up years like?
- If you have an afternoon to yourself, what are you most likely to do with it?
- How did God get ahold of your heart?
- What book are you reading right now?
- What are you learning about God in your times in His Word?
- What is your favorite recipe?
Of course, these are just a small sample…there are literally thousands of questions you can ask. You might even find that just one question sets you both on a course of conversation for the rest of the evening. It’s amazing how that works!
So, as you begin to find yourself in more and more conversations, take some quick inventory: who are you speaking to? Then do some quick thinking: what question could you ask to get the conversational volleyball flying? You’ll keep the art of conversation alive, and those exchanges of words, be it many or few, just might be one of the highlights of your day!