The Lost Art of Conversation

THE LOST ART OF CONVERSATION

By Leann Albrecht

In the beginning, God created the universe by the spoken word. The book of Genesis recounts those first moments. “And over the darkness God said, “Let there be light” and there was light.” After He finished His exquisite expanse of earth and sky, He added one more living form called “man.”  Adam and Eve were created to have friendship with God and He conversed with them in the Garden of Eden.

We are creatures designed to be able to speak, listen, and understand each other. Conversation simply means: an interchange of thoughts and information by spoken words between individuals.

Never has there been a time in history when a person can connect with so many people. Through the Internet, FaceBook, MySpace, Blogging, and Tweeting, we have access that previous generations never experienced. In fragmented sentences and abbreviated words, it is possible to be in touch with people almost as quickly as the thought of them sprints through our mind. However, I want to clarify that transferring information and having a conversation are two very different things. In a high-tech world, glutted with information, it’s important to also be able to use one of our greatest assets, organic conversation.

In a verbal transaction, there’s a cadence of conversation that is necessary in order for relationships to mature and grow. It’s just as valuable to be a good listener as it is to be able to put your thoughts into words. Good listeners are not only well respected but typically house a wealth of knowledge in comparison to those who have not developed that skill. My father always said, “If you’ll just stop talking and listen, you’ll learn a lot more.” As I grew older, I discovered he was right.

Good conversational etiquette is not a “southern” or cultural thing. It simply requires a selfless genuine love and concern for others. Everywhere we go, we converse with people, whether we are acquainted with them or not. As we interact with others, what is the impression we leave as we walk away? Have we left a measurable deposit of encouragement in their life or have we only added to our own bank account…the need for more attention?

I have a dear friend (I’ll call her Susan) who lived in another city so we didn’t get to see each other often.  She was like many people who suffer from the “me syndrome.” Every time we got together, her wall of words pelted me like a machine gun as I listened to the endless details of her life. Invariably, at the end of our chats, I would walk away unfulfilled and disappointed because it seemed there was no room for anyone else in Susan’s life but herself. I had once again been her silent sounding board.

One day I received an e-mail from her. This was her realization and commentary in which she refers to me as the “interviewer.”  Susan wrote:

“Some people have “the interview” down to an art form. My friend and I were more than acquaintances by now, and I thought our initial interview was over. She was like a cryptographer of the heart.

Each time our visit together was up, I’d feel the sting of embarrassment when I’d realized that our conversation revolved exclusively around ME. How could I be so stupid, so full of myself, so insensitive to another? All the “BAD ME’ thoughts flooded my mind until I could stand it no longer. No! No longer will I fall prey to such conversation. Then it occurred to me, is my interviewer friend feeling left out …feeling unloved…an unrequited conversationalist?

The next time we met I asked her why she never told me about her life when we got together. She hesitated, and then simply responded, “Well, you never ask me about it.”  Admittedly, it took me by surprise. I felt awkward and for the first time….without words. After regrouping, I was able to manage some questions of my own. Of course, I’d find myself steering the conversation back toward myself now and again but then I’d get back on course and resume the “my interview.”

It was a hard lesson learned. This manager of the heart, sensitive, people-loving friend is dear to me. I would never want her to think she is misunderstood, or that her best quality lies only in the questions she asks about my life. Or that she is only loved for the “feel good” element she brings to our friendship. I need her in my life to teach me patience, listening skills, and the insight of the Interviewer.”

Susan thought I was deliberately “interviewing” her. But in actuality, I was being genuinely interested by asking questions which helped satisfy my curiosity regarding the subjects she was talking about.

We all have friends who constantly talk about themselves for hours on end. If by some miracle, we get a chance to interject a personal thought, it is met with a blank stare and the subject is quickly escorted back to something that relates to their life. I call them “conversational narcissists.”

Conversational narcissism is a term used by sociologist Charles Derber in his book “The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life.” Derber states, “The social support system in America is relatively weak, and this leads people to compete mightily for attention. In social situations, they tend to steer the conversation away from others and toward themselves. Conversational narcissism is the key manifestation of dominant attention-getting psychology. It generally occurs in informal conversations among friends, family and coworkers.”  Derber continues by saying, “Conversational narcissism often occurs subtly rather than overtly, because even the dim-witted among us know that it’s rude not to show interest in others, and prudent to avoid being judged an egotist.” – Wikipedia

Let me explain what a healthy conversation should sound like. First of all, when you are speaking, look at people in the eyes. Eye contact conveys confidence, sincerity, and it holds the attention of the listener. Secondly, as you develop your story or thought, it’s important to edit the facts as you go. Few people have the capacity to endure intricate details. For example, try not to agonize over whether it was “10:30 or 10:35”. It really doesn’t matter….unless of course, you are a lawyer depicting the scene of a crime in a court of law.

In informal settings, when you have “held the floor” for more than 5 minutes, it’s time to volley the conversation back to the one(s) listening. If they are interested in more details, they will ask. Short stories are generally better than long ones.

If you are the listener, really listen to what is being said. Quiet your mind. Don’t already be thinking about what you’re going to say next or how it relates to you. When someone else is speaking, it is all about them. Give them the respect to finish a story or thought without interruption. Care enough about them to respond to their subject matter with a comment or question that let’s them know they are being heard. Phil 2:4 (GW) Don’t be concerned only about your own interests, but also be concerned about the interests of others.

It’s not important to express your opinion at that point, unless they ask you.  If you will wait your turn, there will be ample time for your personal input. It is rude to interrupt and shows lack of respect for the one speaking. Proverbs 18:13 (NIV) He who answers before listening, that is his folly and his shame. It also reflects impatience and selfishness. Philippians 2:3
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Have compassion for those who take longer to put their thoughts into words.  Don’t try to finish their sentences or blurt out the conclusion of a story just so you can get to the punch line.

In general conversation, your responses and comments should always be gracious and encouraging. My mom always used to say, “If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say it at all.” Sarcasm, criticism and belittling comments do nothing to deepen friendships. Psalm 19:14
 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord.

I learned much of my genuine love and concern for people from my parents. In fact, my father never met a stranger. On the sidewalks of town, at the gas station or shopping at Sears, he knew how to draw people out, even if only for a smile to brighten their day. He valued people. Their opinions, experiences, their joys and sorrows were of importance to my father. I have to admit, I didn’t see the full extent of his passion for others until his funeral in which hundreds came and shared their stories of how Jack Hendrickson changed their life because of his simple act of “caring.”

Expressing love for others by exercising good communication skills is within everyone’s capabilities. Jesus gave only two commands. Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV) Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

If loving and caring for others was not something you learned from those who shaped your life, it is a character trait that must be learned from the Lord. He is the very embodiment of love for He is the Creator of it. If we do not have it, we must ask Him for it. We cannot give away something we do not possess. Genuine love and compassion often comes from practicing it…and you know the old adage, “Practice makes perfect.”

If you’re not sure how to begin, here are some ideas. Even though chit chatting about the weather and politics may be a good place to start, when the opportunity presents itself, dare to dive into deeper issues of one’s life. Ask genuine questions that stir more thoughtful personal responses.

Also, be brave enough to share from the depth of your own thinking. Of course, you need to “throw out a line” to see if it’s ok to traverse certain subjects. Be mindful as to how much the other person can handle at one time. Allow the conversation to naturally open up which will cause specific channels of thought to surface. Be honest and real.

Finally, in our house, computers and phones are not allowed at the dinner table. We even turn off ringers and silence the answering machine. Unless someone is “on call” for work or waiting for an emergency call, all phone conversations and “texting” are banned. Carl and I feel it is important to nurture friendships and love those who have taken the time and effort to get together…even if it is just family. It is rude and dishonoring to be constantly distracted by outside interruptions. Those who are not present have to leave a message and will be contacted at a later time.

Whether you are young or old, it’s never too late to brush up on social skills. Even Peggy Post, Emily Post’s great granddaughter-in-law, made good behavior fashionable in her book Etiquette. She confirms that talking on the phone at the dinner table is a no-no. That includes the vibrating mode. Turn it off and give your companions the attention they deserve.

Communicating with each other over coffee, dinner or around a cozy fireplace broadens our understanding of humanity. Our world of technical and media bombardment seeks to steal the concentrated organic art of conversing with each other. However, nothing will ever take the place of face-to-face conversation, which is connecting to another person with intentional concern. It’s in these “un-recapturable” moments that we learn to use language to explore limitless ideas, hopes and dreams. Dare to try it! Learning to be an effective communicator will become one of your most valuable assets in life.  It will be the component that builds your relationship with God and with people. As living breathing human beings, it’s one of our greatest gifts to each other.

 

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Comments

  1. David Baroni says

    Thank you, Leann!

    • You’re welcome, David. In fact, you are one who has mastered the art of conversation. You make every one feel important when you talk to them. That’s so important. Well done, my friend!

  2. Violet@CreateBeauty says

    Leann,
    This is a great article! Thank you for sharing HOW to do this. I am always in awe of a friend who has this ability to draw people out in conversation ~ with strangers she meets in shops and just out and about in her daily life, and it is because she is truly interested in them and what they say. I have learned so much just by watching her interact with people. The art of conversation is for many a learned creative endeavor, and I want to grow better at this. Sometimes we must learn how to love others by caring enough to hear their thoughts. Your advice here has been very helpful! Thank you.

    ~ Violet

    • Oddly enough, that’s how I learned too…..by watching others do it so well. I’m still learning and growing with this “art”. It is so fun to see people “come alive” when someone takes the time to listened to them.
      Bless you. Violet!

  3. Fantastic! :^) Your dad’s gift in this area definitely was inherited by you, too.

  4. Excellent, and so practical and close to home for all of us. Thank you!

  5. Terri Lynn Weaver says

    In a world that see’s techno as the way to stay in touch, nothing replaces the eyeball to eyeball contact of quality time with a friend. Thank you for reeling me in again. By keeping the main thing the main thing, conversations real time listening and caring with our Lord and with those whom He places in our lives is time well spent. Very good article Leann. Lord bless you and Carl big time!!!

    • Thanks, Terri Lynn, I think of you often…and pray you are doing well. Come and visit us sometime.
      Blessings to you and ALL you do for us Tennesseans. Thanks for caring.
      Love ya!

  6. Marvalinn says

    “If you are the listener, really listen to what is being said. Quiet your mind. Don’t already be thinking about what you’re going to say next or how it relates to you.” that hit home for me. thank you!

  7. Dang….. Conversational narcissism, Lord forgive me….. That was a good article and reminder Leann…. I will begin to practice that one…. 🙂 I like the part also when we must have compassion for those who take longer to put there thoughts into words… I do that, I must not judge others….
    Love and appreciate you!

    • Thanks for taking the time to post, Lisa. No worries…..we get better at the thing we practice. 🙂
      Many blessings to you!

  8. Patrizia Buda says

    Thank you Leann! As always, there is an anointing in your words! This is a very important subject and it made me realize how many “mistakes” I make when I talk to people. We take too many things for granted – especially those things that we do constantly, like ‘talking’. But your article makes us realize that nothing can be taken for granted and that we must allow God to instruct and heal every aspect of our life! Thank you again! Love you girl!

    • Ahhh, Pat, Yes, but you have always been good at conversation….and I have relished every one of them with you. 🙂
      I love and miss you too!

  9. Leann,
    What a wonderful article. At times I feel I am the part of “me syndrome” exemplified by “Susan”, at others the “interviewer”. I’d like to be less of the former and more of the latter.
    How true, all the technology in the world cannot replace the true face to face conversation from the heart.

    • Ha ha, Sandra. I totally understand. Practice makes perfect, though….and adds a wealth of knowledge just by listening.
      More power to you.

  10. Manfo Joel says

    Very practical. Love it. Thanks Leann.

  11. I think you are anointed not only to sing …but to teach the world in a loving christian way…love it
    ciao Dio Ti benedica

  12. Hi,
    It’s a privilege for me to mail you cos u are one in a millions among others. Thank you so much for your article. I am a good listener but, you made me realize something i failed to accept by always trying to “finish their sentences” I love you so much and i pray that God will continue to strengthen you and your hubby. You are not only good at singing but wonderful in putting smile and laughter into sad faces. Remain Bless.
    Ebere

    • Dear Ebby,
      Your note made me smile…thanks for your encouraging words. I am thankful this article helped you.
      Many blessings to you.

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