In school I studied a vital key to communication: Writing. But as adulthood has forced me out of my shell of adolescence and I’m no longer able to hide the fact that I’m actually a really shy person, the oral elements of communication have become more important. By oral elements I mean conversation.
Conversation: Oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas.
With the use of texting, messaging, snapping, and social media comments, conversation has evolved radically since the days before the age of technology.
I’ve noticed that people are more likely to text or message me than to strike up a conversation in person. Quite honestly, I hate having conversations through instant messages, because there is such a loss of clarity in the mix. No facial expressions. No body language. No personality traits. And let’s face the truth, emojis hardly do the job.
I recently had a very good conversation with someone and it caused me to wonder how I learned to get over the fear of talking to new people. When did I begin using my words instead of my keyboard? I once was shy and quiet, but somewhere between high school and now, I learned the great joy and satisfaction that comes with in-person conversation.
So I want to encourage my reader to consider this post as a challenge for you to be more intentional with your communication and to seek those “in-person” conversations, where both individuals are entirely present.
Observe the following seven steps to good conversation.
- Begin by asking questions. I recently met a guy at a laser tag outing among friends. Although we had not previously been introduced, we shared a similar social circle. I asked him how to read the score after the game and he explained that if you are at the bottom of the screen, which I was, you probably came in last, which I did.
- Introduce yourself. After a few moments I introduced myself saying, “I don’t know you. What’s your name?” Yeah, I’m pretty forward with introductions, but not everyone has to be. Right away I learned his name and he learned mine which unfolded a conversation of why we hadn’t met before. I explained I was in Korea the week before when our friends met up. He explained he was out of town the week before that.
- Ask general questions that pertain to what you know about the person. His name was Joel and after another few moments he asked what I was doing in Korea. Keeping it simple, because most people don’t want to hear about your fantastic trip in South East Asia, I said I was visiting friends. Apparently Joel had been to China and we made light conversation about the 13 hour flight across the world.
- Try to find common ground. Joel asked what I did that allowed me a vacation to Korea, and I told him. In exchange, I asked what he did. When he said he was an ESL teacher, my mind immediately thought of my brother and sister who are both international ESL teachers. This note of information spurred him to tell me about his upcoming venture to Brazil, where he’d signed a two-year contract to teach English.
- Discover what they are passionate about. I began to ask Joel what drew him to Brazil. In college his roommate was Brazilian, or from Brazil, sometimes details get lost in the art of conversation because you are trying to connect the dots and keep momentum going. I gathered that Joel was interested in teaching overseas, curious about Brazil, and really liked soccer. I pocketed this information because I also liked soccer, but it didn’t seem like the right time to say it.
- Allow time for thought. In conversation the person you’re talking to is going to know if you are really interested or if you are just being polite. By now our chat had turned into an extended talk, as Joel expounded on the process of raising money for his trip to Brazil. His travel dates were unsure because his support had only covered 90% of the costs. So I decided to indulge my curiosity and ask Joel what he’d been doing up ’till now.
- Don’t change the subject too often. This was a natural turn in the conversation where we left the thought of Brazil and the money to be raised, and focused on the now. Joel had just finished teaching at an ESL school in Indianapolis. I was familiar with the school because my parents are International Home Stay hosts, and they hosted a student from his school. We talked about the Japanese student who lived with my family for the passed eight months. The commonalities we shared seemed to be more than we could count but the richness of our simple conversation diverged from the fact that we were both entirely present.
So what did I learn from talking with Joel?
Approach every conversation expecting to learn something new. Be curious because you may never know when your path will cross with this person again. You also don’t know what this person is going through. Maybe shifting the focus from you to them will open opportunities you never imagined. Conversation is a lost art. Let’s learn to revive it.