Four Marks of a Good Talk
Engaging in effective conversation
Church leaders do plenty of talking — from preaching and teaching to guiding meetings. But as much as we say, there is often little in the way of conversation. And it’s not just us. Increasingly, conversation is becoming rare in our society. People tend to talk at one another on social media rather than engaging in actual dialogue. That’s not how God designed us to function.
Some days, it might be nice if we could just close ourselves in our offices or climb Mount Sinai and receive a word from the Lord for someone. God certainly can work that way, but more often, He uses our relationships to speak to and through us.
Conversation is more than talk between people. Research suggests effective conversation is balanced communication. It is a mindful, equitable, empathetic process.
Conversation is most effective when we think through what we will say, listen well, and stay open to learning. We should ask God to guide the words we use and acknowledge that He can speak to us through someone else’s words. This approach leads to conversations that are “full of grace” and “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6).
We learn more from conversation when everyone involved has an opportunity to participate. This is not about equal time; it’s about giving everyone a chance to engage. Some people would rather not be the center of attention, but those who hesitate to join in often have great contributions to make. Good leaders understand this and find ways to draw people into the conversation.
In conversation, we learn who people are and how they navigate the world.
Good conversation requires us to consider the perspectives of others and imagine the world as they view it. We don’t have to adopt those perspectives, but we should work to understand where people are coming from and why they see things as they do. We can accomplish this by asking clarifying questions and then listening to hear rather than just listening to respond.
Like close relationships, meaningful conversation develops over time. Rarely will we solve anything or learn much in a single interaction. Casual discussions are fine, but we should also follow up and intentionally employ practices that lead to quality conversation. To develop trust and understanding, we should commit to a process of exchanging ideas.
As a conversation unfolds over time, we will learn to read the entire physical presence of one another. Eye contact, body posture, pace of speech, breathing, tone and choice of words all engage our senses, but they take on new meaning as relationships develop. This is also what makes conversation hard for many of us. Conversation is vulnerable, revealing our weaknesses, faults and insecurities.
In conversation, we learn who people are and how they navigate the world. We learn the level of relationship we might have with another person. And we learn that even in challenging moments, choosing connection is more than just exchanging information. Conversation reveals much about the people involved in the communication.
Conversation not only creates connection between people, but it also cultivates a spiritual dimension we can’t replicate through other forms of human communication. Practice conversation as a spiritual discipline, giving God space to speak and minister among you, as well as through you, as you learn and grow together.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 edition of Influence magazine.