We've all been there. We've spoken to that person who has no real interest in us, except to segue into talking about themselves (heck, I've been that person myself at certain times). How does it feel when someone dominates the conversation so that it's all about them? Or when someone stonewalls you, refusing to take an interest in you? How does it feel?
OK, how about when someone engages you in your interests, demonstrates interest in your life and concerns? It feels great doesn't it? It makes you want to talk to them again! Talking to someone who is gracious towards you in how they speak to you is very winsome. It's no wonder then that, that is how God asks us to be:
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6)
Why does God want Jesus' followers to talk to people this way?
1. Because God is gracious and his people are meant to imitate him (Ephesians 5:1-2).
2. Out of love, followers of Jesus want to win other people to knowing Jesus. The aim isn't to win the argument, but to win the person. Gentle, gracious people are more likely to be listened to, they get asked about what they believe and why, they create interest for the gospel of Jesus.
How can you be a more gracious conversationalist?
1. Learn to do chit chat. Practice talking about anything and everything. Sometimes starting a conversation is one of the hardest things. So be generous and take the initiative to kick-off talking. You can start with just about anything. Just state the obvious e.g. "It's quite hot today, isn't it?", "It's hard to get going on Mondays isn't it?" Try this with someone in the lift or with a shop assistant. People just appreciate the fact that you've made the effort to connect with them.
2. Talk about what interests the other person. Listen carefully for clues about what the other person is "in to". Then ask them about it. Remember what they're "in to" and ask them about it next time you see them. Everyone has at least one gush point, the topic that leads them to speak non-stop for minutes or more. Once you find it, it's an open door to going deeper. A few people I meet with are interested in the A-League, I have only a passing interest in the soccer, but I try to keep up with their team's results, maybe even watch highlights so we can talk about something safe before we go a little deeper.
3. Listen well. People like talking about themselves, but they don't like being interrogated. This means we need to listen well. Ask questions in line with what they're saying - content and feelings - and it'll feel like a conversation and not a polite waterboarding.
4. Share yourself in conversation. Sometimes we can ask people too many questions about themselves (especially when we first meet them). It's good to also share about yourself to keep it balanced. It's also good to make yourself vulnerable in order to deepen the conversation. e.g. "To be honest I've been struggling with motivation at work recently...." The other person might be happy now to share a bit more about their struggles and you've shown trust by opening up a bit about yourself.
5. Don't get too deep too early. Building a good relationship where the other person trusts you and where you can discuss deeper things can take time. Christians tend to want to get into deeper things quickly but this can scare some people off who aren't used to this level of intimacy. So don't rush it. Pray for patience and wisdom.
6. Shine under pressure. It's especially difficult to be gracious when you're angry or under pressure. If in a conflict situation, work at genuinely trying to understand the other person's point of view before you respond. Reflective listening can be a useful tool here. If you're too angry to talk graciously, then it might be wise to postpone confronting the issue. Remember the Proverb "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (Proverbs 15:1)
7. Admit you're wrong. Admitting a mistake and apologising for it is a way to speak graciously. In a competitive work environment this graciousness will stand out.
8. Sharing the message of Jesus. Colossians encourages gracious conversation in the context of sharing the message of Jesus. Some people respond to the Christian message with hostility and disdain. Keeping a calm demeanour whilst under verbal attack will add credibility to your message of a gracious God who has been kind to his enemies (see Ephesians 2:1-10).
So during this week work at being a gracious conversationalist. Which of the 8 points do you need to work on this week?
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