Being able to carry on a conversation can mean a lot to others. It is a gift to make someone feel heard and appreciated. Our words and actions in a conversation can convey much of what we feel about them. Having a good conversation between neighbours and those close to us can change the way we feel. Feeling hope, joy, and even love might be only a few words away.
We can all remember awkward conversations. I remember once speaking to a politician who boldly shook my hand and spoke as though they were listening. But I soon found that they were constantly looking past me into the crowd, looking for someone more important to talk to. It was a conversation for show, not substance. Sometimes people are anxious, fearful, angry, selfish, or flippant and it will always come out in a conversation. While each person we meet in our community might come at a conversation with different motives, we can choose to redeem conversations and make everyone we encounter a valuable conversation partner.
I was taught that there are five key ways that we can make every conversation meaningful for those we are speaking with. The first is to be inquisitive. Asking questions engage people and invite us out of ourselves and into conversation with others. Leading questions with a driving agenda can stop up a good conversation, but open questions borne out of genuine interest can help us learn so much about each other. Next time you are in a conversation, listen for how often you ask a question. Most often we ask only as one or two questions, but watch what a difference it makes to ask five or ten questions.
The second key is to listen. When people stop talking we often jump in to share our thoughts. But try adding in a few seconds after someone talks and see what happens. Often people share a little more when given the chance.
The third key is go deeper. Wide and shallow conversations have their place, but memorable conversations are about unfolding a topic or idea and learning more about it and each other. Stick with a conversation long enough for it to go somewhere meaningful.
The fourth key is to respond. Tell the person what you heard them say. After good conversations I like to share back what I’ve learned in a phrase or two. Letting people know that I listened, heard them, and can relate is a vital part of a good conversation.
Lastly, share what you appreciate. We often hear criticism and cynicism, but when we talk with someone, we have a chance to celebrate what is good. Everyone you meet has something that they want to share and when our conversations are healthy and encouraging, the space between us changes for the better.
Next time you have a conversation pay close attention to how you ask questions, listen, deepen, respond and appreciate others. Your neighbourhood and our city is built one word at a time, so may your words build life into others. A good conversation is like art, beautiful and inspiring. May you enjoy both.