“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
I’m writing in response to your letter last week about not being anti-social. I agree with what you said about being loving and all, but my problem is that I’m a terrible conversationalist. Talking to other people, especially new people, is really challenging for me. I don’t know what to say, and I feel like I only make conversations awkward, so I avoid them as much as I can. Any advice for a tongue-tied girl like me?
Struggling to be Social in Saskatchewan
I completely understand what you mean. When I was younger, I was painfully shy, and having conversations with new people scared me to death. It probably wasn’t until college, and really graduate school, that the Lord brought me to a place where I “blossomed” in my interpersonal skills. It’s still a struggle for me, but I think I’ve learned some things that will help you blossom as well.
First, I would say you should examine your heart to see what might be happening in there as far as your interpersonal struggles are concerned. Good social skills start in the heart. I know that for me, the major barrier to becoming an outgoing person was my inward focus. The fear of man often tripped me up and prevented me from reaching out to others (Prov. 29:25). Once I began to care more about what God thought of me than what other people thought, it removed a major obstacle preventing me from becoming the God-centered, others kind of person He wants me to be. Of course, examining your heart isn’t all there is to it. Becoming a good conversationalist takes practice and a bit of skill. Here are three tips to get you started:
1. Truly love people.
If you don’t really love people, then conversing with them will always be a chore. People who are social butterflies often talk because that’s what they like to do, not necessarily because they want to express love for others. Your goal must be higher than being a good conversationalist. Seek to develop good communication skills for the glory of God and the good of others. Ask the Lord to change your heart in whatever ways necessary and open your eyes to view others the way He does. As God answers these prayers, your growing concern for others will help to loosen your lips in the right ways allowing you to better express your love through open and friendly conversations.
2. Ask questions.
Some people are simply unbearable to talk to. You know why? Because they only talk about themselves! A conversation can only go so far when that’s going on. My first tip for you, and really I think it’s the key to making good conversation, is to start asking questions. Start with the obvious, like the person’s name, and work your way out—ask about where she works, her family, where she’s from, what school she’s attending or has attended, what she studied there, where she goes to church, what her hobbies are, etc., etc. Asking good questions not only jumpstarts a conversation, but it can also keep it going for a very long time. Your questions will often uncover shared interests, and then the conversation can really spring to life. We all enjoy talking to someone who is genuinely interested in our lives and will usually open up more quickly when we sense that a person truly wants to get to know us. If that’s the type of person you want to be, asking questions is a skill worth developing.
3. Be truly interested in the answers.
Don’t forget that asking questions isn’t an end in itself; it’s just a tool to help you get to know people better. Make sure you listen intently to the answers and provide feedback when appropriate. Keep good eye contact. Nothing tells a person you’re not interested in what they have to say quicker than your roaming eyes, especially when your eyes are roaming to the clock.
When one line of conversation runs its course, start another by asking a related question or a question about a new topic. It’s a big world; you’ll be amazed at how many topics there are to cover. Someone once told me that if all she has to talk to people about is the weather, then she just won’t talk to them at all. I completely disagree with such an idea. If faced with the choice of ignoring someone or making an observation about the weather, I’ll take the latter any day. Why? Because at the very least, I have recognized that person as being worthy of my attention, even if talking to them about temperature, precipitation, or humidity is the best I can do at the time.
The Scripture calls us to speak the truth in love. Since we can’t obey this command without conversing with people, I’d say that developing good communication skills is a worthy endeavor for each of us to pursue. Our goal in talking to others, as in all areas of life, is to follow the pattern set by our Savior. In Luke 4:22, it is said that the people who heard Jesus “marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.” The more closely we model our speech after His, the more clearly we’ll reflect His love to the world.
Working on my words with you,
What advice would you give this person if you could? Have any talking tips you’d like to share?
*”Ask Mel” is a weekly question & answer feature where I write a letter presenting an actual problem and then offer biblically-based counsel in response.