Conversational Skills

by Ruth M. Green
RUF Lehigh Summer Conference 2004

I. Nature of Conversation

A. Definition: the art of exchanging thoughts (ideas and observations) with another person. Biblically, words are an instrument of power.

B. Verbal ping-pong. Not competitive, give and take, every force equal & opposite reaction

C. Includes both a message and a meta-message

1. Message – denotation of the words

2. Meta-message – connotation of the words and non-verbal signals. Information about the relations among the people involved, and their attitude toward what they are saying or doing and the people they are saying or doing it to

a. Tone of voice. Pitch. Syntax. “Wow, you look beautiful”

b. Body language; amount of eye contact

c. Conversational style (pacing).

d. Should have genuine interest on both sides, opportunity for both to express themselves, some dashes of tact and perception.

II. Purpose of Conversation

A. Social: transferring information or establishing a personal connection

B. Biblical: love one another

1. Jesus loved His disciples by telling them what He heard from His Father (John 15:15)

2. Conversation is one tool for imitating Jesus’ love and obeying His command to love each other.

III. Elements of Conversation

A. Topic

B. People

C. Occasion – develop a sense of appropriateness

D. Style – high involvement or high respect styles. Ending by repetition.

1. We incorrectly make moral judgments based on differences of style.

2. It is likely that the words of people from different parts of the country, or ethnic backgrounds, or class background will not be understood in the way they were meant.

3. Contrast high involvement New York Jew with high respect Midwestern farmer.

IV. Problems in Conversation

A. Personalities

1. Introverts talk too little. The partner feels/thinks burdened that conversation falls on them.

2. Extroverts talk too much. Partner feels/thinks they are an audience, not a participant.

3. Intuitives only discuss ideas.

4. Sensors only discuss things.

5. Thinkers can’t grasp the meta-message. “I want this on my desk by 3 P.M!” (This is important)

6. Feelers can’t grasp the message because of focusing on the meta-message. (My boss is a high stress person, angry at me.)

7. NTs will only talk to one person. (David at a party)

8. SJs won’t talk to anyone deeply. (I jump around, look for variety, call NT style “beating a subject onto the ground”)

9. SPs talk impulsively, often oblivious to other person’s role in conversation

10. NFs talk to imagined deep issues. Too concerned with impression they are making.

B. Gender Differences. This will be explored at length in the next session. One freebie: Many women use language to create community; many men use language to manage content

C. Initiating

1. Overcoming shyness. Being an introvert does not give you ticket out of conversation initiation. But don’t accept roles where initiation is a requirement (i.e., nursery coordinator)

2. Avoiding interrogation.

3. Avoiding intrusive subjects. “Intrusive” hard to define because can vary with cultures

D. Responding

1. Overcoming shyness

2. Ignorance of the topic

3. Not providing further conversational material. Always give something to play off.

4. Not allowing the other person back in.

E. Not listening

1. Conversation is not all about being a good listener, but listening well is crucial

2. Particular danger of men who use woman as an audience

F. The really hard subjects

G. The major blunder (eg., Naomi needs a new goalie)

1. Laugh at yourself

2. Commit hari-kari

V. Techniques of Conversation

A. Rituals. Nothing wrong with them. They establish good intentions and provide safe ground for initial tentativeness

B. Preparation

1. Topics. Be a reader! (Trucker strike example)

2. Questions

a. Can you discover what in his life gives him pride, where he feels accomplished and valuable

b. Always a good choice: How was your day? and really listening to the answer!

3. Stories

4. Jokes and puns. Points 3 & 4 acknowledge the entertainment element to conversation, how we make ourselves interesting to one another

VI. Practice Conversations in Improvisational Role-playing

A. Bible study leader and freshman

B. Non-responder

C. Unexpectedly stuck with your roommates’ parents

VII. Debrief Conversations. Suggest some openers (“What did you think of the talk last night?”)

VIII. Main Point: Conversation is an obligatory and beneficial tool to our effective work and relationships in the kingdom.

A. Extroverts have an advantage (Dean of Admissions at UVA: “Extroverts have an advantage in life.”).

B. It is an art that can improve with practice.

C. Knowing your weakness in this area gives you the opportunity to work on it.

Northeast@ruf.org • 610-691-0988 • 631 Fourth Avenue, Bethlehem, PA 18018