The Secret to Great Conversation
by Becky Harling
I remember when I first started dating. I was 16 and felt pretty insecure. I remember wondering, “What on earth will we talk about for several hours on a date?” A wise friend gave me incredible advice! She said, “Oh Becky, you don’t need to worry. Just have a few good questions ready because boys love to talk about themselves!” Wow! Who knew? Her advice worked beautifully! And I’ve used that concept over and over again because, whether at a networking event, coffee with a friend, coaching on the phone or conversing with my husband, the secret to great conversation remains the same. Here it is. Are you ready? Ask a few great questions, and listen well to the answers!
Often when we think about being good conversationalists, we imagine great comments, engaging stories and funny jokes. But guess what? Eighty percent of a successful conversation involves listening. If you think back on great conversations you’ve had with others, I bet you’ll discover that what made it a fulfilling experience for you was the other person’s ability to listen. The startling truth is, whether we admit it or not, most of us love to talk about ourselves.
So when you’re in a conversation, how do you remember to ask great questions? Here’s an easy trick I use: There are two C’s to any great conversation—Curiosity and Connecting.
Instead of getting nervous when you meet someone new or becoming too exuberant to share your stuff when you meet an old friend, stay curious. When meeting someone new, find out as much about the other person as you can. See if you can discover where they grew up, where they live now, what they love about their family and their job. Don’t make it an interview. Simple follow up answers with related questions.
If you’re meeting a friend, play a similar game with yourself. Seek to discover anything new in the other person’s life since the last time you were together. Try to remember the last conversation you had and ask pertinent questions based on the last conversation. Your friend will be thrilled, trust me! They’ll feel heard and loved.
Connection questions are questions that help you build a bridge to the other person’s heart. They help you establish or re-establish connection. For example, when one of my grandsons started kindergarten, my daughter, Stefanie, wanted to connect with some of the other moms so she began a conversation with one of the other moms by asking, “How is your son adjusting to kindergarten?” Immediately a bridge was built. My daughter gave the other mom the opportunity to process her feelings about her son’s adjustment to kindergarten.
As I write this, my youngest daughter has just given birth to a baby girl. She’s beautiful by the way, but that’s beside the point. As my daughter’s sisters and friends have called to check on her, they’ve asked Keri questions about her birth experience. They’ve given her the opportunity to process her birth story—which is so important for women! By doing so, my daughters’ hearts are even more connected than they were before. Stories and experiences connect our hearts and deepen our sense of community, but someone has to ask the questions to build the bridge and invite connection.
Jesus valued His relationships and was a great conversationalist. Think about it, He asked amazing questions: “What do you want me to do for you? (Luke18:41), “Why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26), “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). He engaged people in conversations, giving them the opportunity to share their stories by staying curious and seeking connection. His conversation with the woman at the well is a great example of this (John 4). He drew her out and gave her the opportunity to share her story. As a result, her life was changed!
We too have the opportunity to have transformational conversations with people if we’ll learn to draw them out by staying curious and seeking connection. As we follow Jesus’ example, the people in our lives will feel valued and loved.
So if you’re having trouble thinking of questions to get the conversation going, I’ve got good news for you! Here are a few great questions to get your conversational wheels spinning:
Tell me about your family?
Do you have extended family living nearby?
What do you love most about your job?
If you could travel anywhere in the world for an all expenses paid trip, where would you go?
Do you do any volunteer work? If so, what kind?
What do you enjoy doing for fun and relaxation?
If you could change one thing about your job, what would you change?
Have you found a church that meets your needs?
Have you been able to find and enjoy deep community in your church?
If you could do college over again, what would you do differently?
For more ideas on becoming a great conversationalist, be sure to get a copy of How to Listen So People Will Talk.
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