The Art of Conversation (Part 2): Tips for Communication

Perhaps one of the greatest barriers to problem solving in today’s culture is the inability to communicate. Yet, our technology, which supposedly helps bridge gaps in communication, actually seems to be stimulating our inability to communicate. Texting, emails, Twitter, and other messenger programs have wreaked havoc on our ability to appropriately, clearly, and artfully converse with others (for an interesting article published this week on the topic from a professor’s perspective, click here). No longer do we communicate with a precision that brings integrity to our speech or importance to our conversationalists.
Neither is technology alone in promoting ineptitude in conversations. Our current culture is one in which stimulating conversation and respectful dialog are not encouraged. The ‘all about me’ attitude has encouraged a bully society in which disagreements are settled by power. As a result, our ability to have rationale and logical discussions has gone by the wayside.
Observation tells us that there are multiple factors that affect the ability to converse. Rather than restate points from last week’s article on the same topic (which you can read here) I want to offer up some practical suggestions that can guide our ability to be conversational. Conversation requires more than just outward reputation, but an inward reflection as well. Therefore, we must consider two categories of practical suggestions: Traits of character and traits of conversation.
Conversation is not a mere outward activity that people engage in without care or caution. Instead, a good, artful conversation must be initiated by one’s own characteristics that make up who they are. As Christians who are transformed by the gospel, from the old man to the new, our conversations should reflect that very gospel that is able to impact others. Therefore, to engage in conversation, three key points:
  • Be Humble: Humility is an important point in the life of a Christian. Humility makes us teachable and able to learn. Humility also allows us to set ourselves side for the sake of others, therefore making us more intentional in listening to others. Such an act causes compassion, concern, and love to flow out of us and towards others.
  • Be Controlled: Conversations can stoke a passion from within us, whether it be about our political beliefs, religious convictions, or simple preferences. As such we are quick to defend, quick to correct, and quick to advise. Instead, we must be even-tempered, controlling our emotions to a certain level. This does not mean we do not find joy, laughter, or even tears coming out of our conversation, but rather that we are guided by the Spirit in our communion with others.
  • Be Loving: Love from God must be the character of our entire life. All that we engage in should be done so with the implication of loving others so that God’s love may be shown to others. Therefore, our conversations must be seasoned with a love that guides others towards him
While these three aspects are key, there is an endless list of characteristics we could include. An examination of the passage know as the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) includes a list of character indicators of the Christian life that would also find great application in the context of our conversations as well.
The ability to converse and communicate with others begins with an inward attitude, but is manifested by outward activity. Our ability to converse begins with a heart attitude that is lovingly directed towards other people, but includes outward actions as well. Therefore, our conversations would benefit if we are careful to implement the following:
  • Skills of Listening: The book of Proverbs extols that value of listening over responding. James, the New Testament book of Proverbs, also elevates the character trait of listening as well. Therefore, a good conversationalist is quick to listen and slow to speak. Instead of turning the conversation back to himself or herself with quick stories and antidotes (i.e. “That happened to me once too!” or “That’s nothing, you should hear this . . “). A good rule of thumb for listening: when others ask about you, answer quickly, but genuinely and turn the conversation back to them.
  • Skills of Knowledge: There is a skill in being well-rounded. This does not mean that a person must be an expert in everything, but rather has general insights and understanding in the disciplines of life. Develop a list of questions that can help stimulate your conversation by engaging in topics that interest the other person. The questions can be general enough to suit any discipline, but specific enough to compel conversation. Developing a habit of reading can aid this as well. Reading widely and deliberately forces us to learn much about the aspects of life.
  • Skills of Disengagement: Finally, in order to engage with others, we must be quick to disengage with the distractions of life. In other words, silence your smartphone (see some of my most recent article son the topic by clicking here, or reading my review of 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You). We are so easily distracted, that even when we are listening, we aren’t really listening at all. We’re gazing at those around us, dreaming about the life we want, or determining our next moves. So important is this concept that I will say it again. In order to engage in dialog, we must disengage with distraction.
Listening, knowledge, and disengagement make up some of the most significant parts of conversationalism, if there is such a thing.
The ability to converse is part ability and part skill that begins with a heart oriented away from ourselves and towards God and others. The lack of communication, or rather the lack of ability to communicate, is causing problems within our society and relationships. We cannot redeem a culture without redeeming our conversation (which takes the redeeming of our community with the gospel).
Photo “Conversation” courtesy of user Valery Kenski and Flickr.