The Art of Conversation

I enjoy a good conversation, but rarely will I engage in a conversation that does not have a level of depth beyond the initial layer of soil (usually where the weeds go). Such a guideline is beneficial because it avoids unnecessary chatter that yields nothing. However, there is a pitfall in that it also limits my contact with people since most of the talk today is often very shallow and it avoids meeting new people because it’s this type of conversation that sets the course for larger discussions and getting to know people. Truthfully, many of us, including myself, are poor conversationalists.
Diminished Ability
Unfortunately, our greater reliance on technology only magnifies our inability to engage in meaningful conversation. We rely so heavily on texts, emails, and group work boards that our communication takes on new syntax, semantics, and structure. Confining our conversations to these outlets has caused us to be a people that limit our vocabulary, limit our context, and limit our content in conversations. Thus our conversational ability is diminished.
Decisive Ability
Conversation is an important aspect of who we are and what we do. Such an ability to communicate makes us a unique part of God’s creation. That unique aspect to who we are infiltrates every segment of our lives. Because of its prominent role in our lives, the art of conversation carries a significant role in our lives. Therefore, our ability to converse impacts our work, it impacts our relationships, and it impacts our ministry. Whether we are communicating with our closest friends or our newest contact, our ability to converse can captivate or castigate people. Therefore, our ability to communicate is entitled to evaluation and application.
Developed Ability
Years ago, my ability to talk was continuous. However, that ability to talk was not combined with an ability to converse. I noticed a trend in my conversation: it was always fixated on me. A typical conversation was someone sharing a story that ‘reminded’ me of my own story that everyone just had to hear as well. Pay attention and you will notice that’s the character of most conversations today. It’s a constant back and forth of each person talking about himself or herself in an effort to one-up on the other person’s stories.
Recognizing how often I turned the conversation back to myself I resolved to talk less about myself except at appropriate times. The result? I found myself talking a lot less than I used to. Certainly, it’s not wrong to talk about ourselves. The issue I found is that we are so focused on ourselves that we never really hear the other person. Instead, we are looking for a keyword or phrase that reminds us of our own story to tell, not necessarily to add value to the conversation but more as an attempt to add value to ourselves.
The conclusion to such an observation is that there is a great need for us to reorient ourselves towards others. We have so little to talk about because the only topic of conversation that people want to talk about are themselves. If you want to talk about yourself and I want to talk about myself, we can’t converse, because these two can’t coexist at the same time. Instead, there are times in which we can talk about ourselves, but I would propose that the majority of our time should be oriented towards others. How do we do this? Showing interest, such as making eye contact. Listening intently to what is being said. All of this is meaningless if not coming from a person who is genuine and humble. So ask questions or responding ways that demonstrate true compassion.
It’s not as simplistic as saying we must reorient ourselves towards others. If it were that easy, then there would be no need for this discussion. Instead, to completely reorient ourselves towards others is by reorienting ourselves towards God. When we are consumed by God, we are consumed by a love for His people. That’s because we are consumed also by the things that God loves, like His people.
We must recapture the art of thoughtful and considerate conversation. We do so not merely for our sakes, but for the sake of God’s glory and the good of God’s people. The art of conversation involves disengaging from our worldly Gods (technology, phones, Facebook, etc.) and instead engaging with the God.
Photo “Conversation” courtesy of user Valery Kenski and Flickr.