Most people enjoy talking about themselves, whether they realize it or not. We feel comfortable with the topic of our own life because we know a lot about it. One way to ensure that there is good momentum in a conversation is to ask questions that help the other person reveal more about who they are and what they value.
Asking Good Questions and Listening Well
Me: “Where did you grow up?”
Person: “Indianapolis, on the west side.”
Me: “What did you like about growing up in that area?”
Person: “Eagle Creek was great to sail on in the summer. I was on the baseball team at Brownsburg High School in the area, and had a great coach.”
Me: “That sounds like fun. Tell me more about sailing. I go to a camp in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan every year and have yet to learn to sail. When did you learn? Who taught you?”
Person: “I love sailing. I learned to sail when I was nine years old from my grandpa, who used to take me out every Saturday afternoon when I was a kid. Big part of my childhood.”
Me: “Sounds like you are close with your family. What other hobbies or activities did your family do together?”
This is typical of most introductory conversations I have, whether they are with college students, peers, or first dates.
You might notice that I am asking all of the questions.
After these conversations, many people express to me that it was the most meaningful conversation they’ve had in a long time. This is not due to my sharing a wealth of information. It’s simply my asking questions, listening to the response, and asking another question in response.
Your 3 Go-to Questions
An introverted friend of mine says he has three “go to” questions in his hip pocket for situations like this. These questions are basic and open-ended (as opposed to “yes/no” questions):
Where did you grow up?
If you had a free day what would you do with it?
What do you enjoy about your vocation [or academic major, depending on the situation]?
The key to using these questions successfully is to listen to the answer and not be so preoccupied with your next question that you miss a potential window to ask a follow-up question. When we ask good questions and listen to the responses, we communicate that people are worth getting to know and have value.
But this requires us to step out of our comfort zone and be “others-centered.” It can feel risky. Not only are we affirming the value of others, though; we are also putting ourselves in a position to learn something new. You might discover something about their family culture, ethnicity, or field of work.
Moreover, since every person is made in the image of God, by getting to know another human you are finding out something more about our Creator. Maybe God will remind you of something through a conversation with someone you just met. Or maybe you’ll learn something about yourself.
Sharing Christ’s Love
Conversations can be an opportunity to share more of Christ’s love with someone. We don’t know how the Holy Spirit is working in peoples’ lives and what he may want to communicate through us in a conversation.
I was in a Pilates class a couple of years ago and had felt a nudge to get to know the instructor. I had doubts. Would we have anything in common? I develop relationships all day long; did I have energy for this one?
Deciding to trust God and put my selfish thoughts aside, I introduced myself one day. By asking a few questions, I found out my instructor was a mechanical engineer, originally from China, and had earned her master’s from Purdue University—where I worked for seven years.
She told me that she noticed something different about me—a radiance and happiness. (This was clearly the grace of God, since Pilates does not elicit such feelings from me naturally.) I used her comment to share a little bit about my reasons for being “happy,” including the large part my faith plays in that.
Since that first conversation, I’ve had more motivation to go to Pilates, I’ve had great conversations about Jesus, I’ve learned much about Chinese culture, and I’m hopeful my friend is moving toward God in the process.
Practice and Pray
You don’t have to be a passionate extrovert or eloquent with words to reclaim the art of conversation. Memorize a one-line introduction, have a few open-ended questions in your hip pocket, and be willing to listen to the Holy Spirit for opportunities to share his love. Then practice, pray, and see if God might reveal himself not only to another person, but to you as well.
Images by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.
When Christ-followers learn the art of good conversation, people will feel valued, which may give them a more positive perception of Christians. This can only help to increase the effectiveness of our ministry, allowing more people the opportunity to know Jesus.