The Art of Conversation

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:

Don’t Interrupt.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Interrupting reveals ignorance and self-centeredness on the part of the interrupter, and a disregard for the one who is speaking.
  3. 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.”

G. W. Carver and J.H. Pickle, Jr.

Have you heard of these men? Both are scientists … well, J. H. is still a scientist, but G. W. was a scientist until he passed away in 1943.

David Pickle called me last week and said he had a book for me, so I drove over to get it. It was so interesting that it didn’t take me very long to finish reading it. The book was compiled and written by Dave’s brother, John H. Pickle, Jr., and it’s an amazing account of his father’s interaction with the outstanding scientist, George Washington Carver! The title of the book is, One of His Boys.

Quoting from the back of the book, “George Washington Carver is today remembered in part for the many products he derived from the peanut, a crop he urged on Southern Farmers to replace cotton and avoid soil exhaustion and the boll weevil. Less known are the multitude of college students Carver took under his wing over the years in relationships that were cherished by and valuable to the scientist. One of His Boys is the story of the mentorship of Johnnie Pickle, one young man inspired to follow in Carver’s footsteps after witnessing firsthand the Wizard of Tuskegee’s wisdom.”

Johnnie Pickle had the privilege of meeting the African American scientist in 1932. Because of this “chance encounter” Johnnie was inspired to become a scientist. Johnnie’s son, John Jr. also followed in Carver’s and Johnnie’s footsteps, and [quoting the book] “spent thirty years developing products for farmers to use. He is now retired and continues to promote good science.”

Dr. John H. Pickle, Jr., spoke about their father’s long-time interaction with Carver. The presentation was at the George Washington Carver National Monument on Saturday, September 11, 2021. I attended and enjoyed the presentation as well as enjoyed meeting Dr. John Pickle.

Carver was the most prominent black scientist in the early 1900s. Two of the things he is famous for were crop-rotation and creating over 300 uses for the peanut. I found it quite interesting that, until 1870, peanuts grown in America were primarily used as a garden crop, and its primary large-scale purpose was hog food until around 1932.

Here’s a bit of peanut trivia.

President Thomas Jefferson was a botanist and grew peanuts. The peanut was nutrition for soldiers during the Civil War. Known as goober peas, the Southerners pronounced them gooba peas because the word from Africa was, nguba.

Enter George Washington Carver, the Wizard from Tuskegee.

Quoting Carver: “All my life, I have risen regularly at four in the morning to go into the woods and talk with God. That’s where He reveals His secrets to me. When everybody else is asleep, I hear God best and learn my plan.”

One morning, George asked God why He made the peanut.

Quoting Carver: “He told me, separate the peanut into water, fats, oils, gums, resins, sugars, starches, and amino acids. Then recombine these under My three laws of compatibility, temperature, and pressure. Then you will know why I made the peanut.”

Eight of these discoveries are flour, paste, insulation, paper, wood stains, shaving cream, tires, and skin lotion.

That heavenly advice helped Carver discover over 300 uses for the peanut, and that changed the South, changed ethnic relations, and changed the agriculture industry.

I laughed when I learned that Carver didn’t merely “talk to God.” He “conversed with God.” That’s exactly what prayer is supposed to be – a conversation with God. Carver said, “God speaks to us every hour, if we will only TUNE IN.”

God is alive, and He wants to communicate with us. If I do all the talking, I’ll get no answers. I know what my problems and needs are, at least I think I know, but God really knows them. If I merely recite to God what He already knows, I’m not learning anything.

But if I listen, I can hear God giving me helpful information – as He gave Carver information. God communicates with me often, and wants to converse with you, too. Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep know My voice.”

God listens, then responds to us. Do you listen to God?

I Was Laid Off

Last week I talked about trust. This blog shows how trust and faith in God helps us.

In September of 1980, Rockwell, International in Tulsa hired me as an aerospace journeyman tool & die maker. I had previously worked for Boeing Aircraft Company as a toolmaker, so I knew the job. Boeing’s new plane was the 757, and Rockwell was building major portions of the fuselage.

But in the fall of 1983, we were finishing our portion and layoffs were announced. As four toolmakers were being laid off each week, my friends worried about me because we had young children to feed. I began worrying, too; but I finally prayed about it.

My prayer was simple, “Lord, what am I going to do?”; and I heard in my mind or spirit, “You’ll be here for at least three more years.”

I’ve never heard God speak audibly, and I don’t expect to in this life. But that was a direct answer to prayer. Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

The next day my friends began helping me worry again, but I told them, “Don’t be concerned about me. I’ll be here at least three more years.” That set their hives a-buzzing! But I didn’t tell them how I knew.

Two weeks later, the supervisor announced that eight of us would be laid off the following Friday – and I was included.

That’s when the Lord prompted me to tell them how I knew; and I was surprised at the mockery I received that entire week. Even my Christian friends thought I was nuts. In front of the workers, the supervisor told me, “Gene, you will be laid off. Don’t make things up.” Giving me my pink slip, he was, however, intrigued at my calm demeanor and my confidence.

On Thursday, the day before my layoff, we were told to clean out our toolboxes, and Friday would be a “free day” – show up but do no work. I told him I wanted to continue working through Friday evening and clean my box out on Monday. Shaking his head, the supervisor agreed.

Friday morning, the supervisor called us to a group meeting. When he publicly asked me if I was ready to be laid off, I told him I wasn’t leaving. He asked me if was sure about it, and I said “Yes.” One of the workers asked if I thought I really heard from God, and I said, “Yes.” Many of them snickered or made derogatory comments.

The boss said, “You with pink slips, step forward and hold them up.” We did. He then looked directly at me and said, “Ten minutes ago, I received a notice from the main office. Tear those slips up. Your layoffs are cancelled, and we are bringing eight others back.”

THAT set their hives a-buzzing!

They gathered around me and wanted to know more. I had a great opportunity to tell them about Jesus and how He leads us … if we listen. For some reason, they all held me in much higher esteem.

What they didn’t know was, this was God’s story, not mine.

The next year I was promoted into management, and had my own crew building portions of the B1-B bomber. But several years later, our contract was winding down and I was given the option of either being laid off within the month or becoming a toolmaker again – then being laid off. That’s a “no-brainer”: be a toolmaker – it’s a paycheck.

 Four months later, when word came that layoffs for the toolmakers were on the horizon, my friends asked me if I was going to be laid off. I said I would pray about it.

Three days later I told them, “I have heard nothing from the Lord. Therefore, I can only assume that I will be laid off.”

That sent shudders down their spines, because that meant they would be laid off, too. A month later, I cleaned out my toolbox. But, believe-it-or-not, I was hired within two weeks by McDonnel-Douglas in Saint Louis, MO.

From the time I heard “You’ll be here for at least three more years” to my eventual layoff, almost four years had passed.

Not only did that episode teach my friends about praying and listening to the Lord, it increased my own faith in Jesus Christ. And that’s what the Lord wants from all of us: learn to pray and listen. If we do, our history will become His Story.

I can only encourage you to pray and ask the Lord for guidance. He can help you through any and every problem.

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