When I told a friend that there is an art to conversation, he leaned back in his chair and said, “Yeah, right!” I suppose his retort surprised me as much as my statement surprised him.
In an October 5, 2015 article, Larry Alton listed “6 Tips to Rule the Art of Conversation.” Tip #5 is: “Let the other person do the talking.”
On July 21, 2014 Eric Barker listed 7 points, with his 5th point being: “Great Conversationalists Listen More than Talk.”
Brett and Kay McKay wrote “The Art of Conversation: 5 Dos and Don’ts” on September 24, 2010. The #1 item in the Dos section is “Listen more than you talk.” And the #1 item in the Don’ts section is: “Don’t interrupt.” That is the best summary I’ve ever heard.
“Conversation” has been a hot topic for millennia – even Plato had a lot to say about it (you can look it up later).
Much of the narrative I’ve read concerning the art of conversation was about preparing our thoughts, how to get our points across, how to guide the conversation, and much more. But for those of you who don’t have time to find and read these books, I’ll make it simple. Here is my number one advice on the Art of Conversation:
That’s right: listen to the other person. Listen with your intelligence. Listen with your ears. Listen with your eyes. Listen with your body language. And listen with your emotions. Sometimes it is not what we say that makes good conversation; sometimes it is merely being there. And sometimes you don’t need to say anything.
Some years ago in New Mexico, a man came to talk about a problem he was experiencing. After seating him in my office and getting him some coffee, I asked him to tell me what’s on his mind. After about forty minutes of non-stop talking, he said, “Pastor Linzey, I need to get back to work now, but that’s one of the best discussions I ever had with anyone about this problem, and I feel better. Thank you.”
As I looked out the window and watched him drive away in his pickup, I said to myself, “And all I did was listen.”
One of the most prevalent hindrances to the communication process is a discouraging concept called “interruption.” This happens in many ways, but here are four examples.
- A discussion is being enjoyed by two people, and a third person walks up and begins to talk. This is utterly rude, for the interrupter acts as though the world revolves around him.
- A person is talking but the other person repeatedly cuts right in to finish the thought. He also interrupts to override the other’s opinions with his own. The interrupter acts as though other people are either not important or their views are irrelevant.
- Another situation is when someone asks a question but interrupts the person as the answer is in process. My question here is: If you are not going to listen to the answer, why ask the question?
- Some folks give a “running commentary” as the other talks. That is really disrespectful. If not disrespectful, it is annoying.
Every adult needs to memorize the following three statements. Except for emergencies:
- Interrupting someone as they are speaking is a manifestation of basic immaturity. Interrupting is just plain rude. We expect interruption from a 3-year-old, but we should learn basic courtesy by the time we are five.
- Interrupting reveals ignorance and self-centeredness on the part of the interrupter, and a disregard for the one who is speaking.
- Stated bluntly: an interrupter does not care what the other person is saying. One person often asks me a question, interrupts my answer, and forgets that he asked a question. That does not generate a good conversation.
As I was growing up, dad used to say, “When you talk, you’re not learning anything. But if you listen, you just might learn something. So practice listening.”
Dad was right.
We should learn to intelligently voice our thoughts; learn to respond without being haughty or boring; give others equal opportunity to speak; etc. But the number one key in the art of conversation is to honor others by learning how to listen without interrupting. Then respond wisely, intelligently.
James 1:19 (KJV) says, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak….” The NLT says, “Listen and be wise.”