Small talk. Some people are good at it. Others are just straight up awkward.
I think I’m pretty good at it, myself. My wife agrees, so it’s almost certain I am (because she’s way smarter than me ). But, I get it, some people feel like they’re not that good at it. Like anything else, I’d say it takes good practice (and lots of awkward mistakes) to feel confident walking up to a stranger at church and kicking off a good, worthwhile conversation that means something to both people.
But what if you’re not good at it? Does it matter that I get better at conversation? Yes! Absolutely it does. Becoming a better conversationalist is an easy way to show someone you care while also representing Jesus well. Even if it’s one of those weird moments in between the services where maybe you have only one or two minutes to converse with someone, each conversation should convey to the person you are speaking to that you really care for them and what they’re saying.
So, for the sake of helping those who feel like they’re not-so-great in this area, here are 9 tips for being a better conversationalist that portray a Christ-like affection.
1.REMEMBER THEIR NAME AND WORK IT INTO THE CONVERSATION.
Simply knowing someone by name is to take a relationship quickly to the next level. It communicates affection and intimacy. The Bible relays this same principle across both OT and NT.
And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.“Exodus 33:17
To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.John 10:3
I’ll never forget an interaction I once had with a 7 year old girl. I was an adult leader at an Awana program at a church and it was the second time I’d met this elementary girl. I happened to remember her name from the week before and I called out to her from afar, “Hey, Camilla! Good to see you again!” She immediately stopped what she was doing, walked over to me, and asked, “You remember my name?!?” As a girl that had a nonexistent relationship with her father, I was maybe one of only a few positive male influences in this girl’s life. And that little moment with her from the beginning cemented a bond of trust for the rest of our friendship and my influence.
Whenever I interact with somebody, whether it’s for the first time or on a recurring basis, I always want to make sure that I remember their name, and then I intentionally work their name into the conversation to demonstrate to them that they are important to me and to God.
2.KEEP THE CONVERSATION ABOUT THEM, NOT YOU.
Maybe you’ve had this type of conversation before:
PERSON 1: Hey! What’s up? How you been?
PERSON 2: I could be better. I just found out today that my mother has stage 4 cancer.
PERSON 1: Oh man. I have a friend who is going through chemo treatment. It’s not been going too well, either. They’ve lost their hair and always sick to their stomach, (on and on and on)….
I think I understand why people do this. People quickly are looking for some common ground and immediately cling onto any story that might relate to the listener so the conversation has a sense of longevity. But, what we fail to realize is that when we do this, we’ve actually failed to affirm that person and their experience, thus turning the nucleus of the conversation to ME and MY experience.
Rather, the selfless thing to do is simply acknowledge what they’re saying, affirm it, and then ask some follow-up questions because that demonstrates that you care (more about this below at #9). You’re not trying to talk about you. You are talking to learn more about them. It makes them feel like they’re cared for and listened to.
Tips #3 through #7 are all about nonverbal cues; the ones you’ve heard over and over from your grade school teacher:
3.LOOK PEOPLE IN THE EYE.
4.SMILE DURING CONVERSATION.
A smile (not creepy) relays to a person subconsciously, “They’re enjoying this. I’ll keep talking.”
5.NOD ALONG AS THINGS ARE SAID.
6.LEAN IN (if you’re sitting down).
Not too far, though. That just comes across as creepy.
7.DON’T CROSS YOUR ARMS.
Try to find a natural place to put your hands. Crossing your arms comes across as defensive.
Especially in a conversation where the person is revealing some deeper stuff that’s going on in their life and often talking for a lengthy period of time, I find myself using a lot of these nonverbal communication skills; I’m smiling, I’m nodding, I’m reacting to what they’re saying to show that I’m actively listening to them.
When I was in 3rd grade, the class clown was a kid named David (he also looked JUST like a miniature version of David Letterman). And this kid got mad respect from all the other kids in my class. Why? Because he was SO clever and quick to flip a comment that got a laugh from everyone. I was in awe of his talent and I often tried to mimic him (usually to my ultimate demise). Until one day on the playground, he actually took notice of me, talked to me, and LAUGHED at something I said. I might as well have been Leo on the Titanic, because I was KING of the world at that moment.
No one feels better about themselves than when they make someone else laugh. So, laugh at their jokes!
9.ASK THEM QUESTIONS.
This might be the biggest secret of all time, but did you know that the more you get a person to talk, the more they LIKE YOU (the one asking the questions)???
The most common mistake we can make in being a bad conversationalist is to make it all about the “me, me, me” category. Yet, that’s where we tend to spend the majority of our conversation. No one wants to converse with someone that only wants to talk about themselves. Instead, I see this simple tactic of asking questions as fulfilling the latter of the Great Commandment – loving others as we love ourselves.
Want to make someone feel like they’re the most important person in your world for that moment? Ask them questions to go deeper. Not only does it serve them, but it only builds you up in their own mind (a nice ulterior benefit).
A healthy and fruitful church is one that not only shares the good news of the Gospel with the lost, but also is deep in each others’ lives – encouraging, admonishing and shepherding others more into the likeness of Jesus. Let’s all commit to getting to know one another in a way that models God’s own relationship with himself – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Is there something I missed? I’d love to hear it below in the comments. Don’t leave me hangin’.