Bridge That Gap With Conversation
EVERYONE talks, so conversation is easy, right? Wrong! In fact the very thought of conversation, especially with a stranger, often causes embarrassment. An anxious stream of questions comes pouring in: “How do I break the ice? What should we talk about? What about my accent?” These and many other doubts assail the timid conversationalist. What is the solution?
Suppose you are waiting for a bus. It is evening and the sun is setting, casting its hues over the city. A stranger, a few feet away, is apparently lost in thought. Just the two of you. What will it be—barrier or bridge? Silence or conversation?
“Some say the city is big and cold, but that sunset is just as beautiful here as it was in the little town where I grew up.”
You have built the first arch of the bridge toward your neighbor. In most cases he will respond, and the gap has been bridged. Of course, not everyone wants to talk. But at least you extended the opportunity by using simple common ground—the beauty of a sunset. It has universal appeal.
But there is one thing to minimize in conversation, that is, YOURSELF. Since the subject must appeal to your listener, the theme will seldom be YOU. To illustrate, there is the story of a conceited movie star who bored his host for an hour with all the trivia of his life since they last met, then concluded by saying: “Well, enough about me. Tell me, have you seen my latest movie?” Avoid the egocentric approach.
So let the subject be, not you, and perhaps not even what you did, but what happened, what’s going to happen, the news, the weather, world events and how they affect you and your listener.
Of course, one thing is to have a subject of common interest, another is to present it in an attractive way. Your listener must be helped to see matters as vividly as you do. How can you do that? By talking about something you like with enthusiasm. If you find you have “struck gold” and your companion shares your enthusiasm then ask questions. Draw him out. The interflow will benefit both of you.
“I Have an Accent”
Some feel they can never be good conversationalists because their speech does not follow accepted patterns of grammar or pronunciation. Foreign-born folk occasionally feel this way, saying, “You know I have an accent and maybe people don’t understand me too well.” In actual fact, many enjoy an unusual accent. For example, a Britisher who lived many years in Spain and Portugal commented, “Although I was conscious of my accent when speaking Spanish or Portuguese, it actually served to hold interest on many occasions. Sometimes a person might take a moment or two to tune in, but after that they were delighted that you had learned their language.”
In many countries a foreign accent is commonplace. It doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. So don’t let your accent hinder you. Instead, the fact that you come from a different country can give you an enormous reservoir of subjects and experiences.
In most countries different accents and dialects exist anyway. They are all part of the fascinating variety found within the human family. Sometimes “big city” people enjoy listening to the “quaint” talk of rural folk, all the while unaware that the country folk are intrigued by the “strange” city talk! The really important point is that they are talking.
Is It Hard to Listen?
Listening is the other half of good conversation, and just as important as talking. The problem is that some do not really listen. They just plan their next line of thought and wait to pounce in—often on a tangent with a different subject or mood. That way conversation is converted into two disjointed monologues. How apt, then, is the counsel: “Be quick to listen but slow to speak.”—James 1:19, The Jerusalem Bible.
Good listening shows good manners. It considers with an open mind the viewpoints offered and ponders how these might influence present opinions. True sincerity then becomes evident. Is the listener trying to hang on to a point of view at all cost? Or does he recognize when a valid point has been made? Yes, sincerity and flexibility make for good conversation.
Nowhere is the importance of sincere listening more vital than in marriage. Have you had the experience of talking to your husband or wife only to find by a noncommittal answer that not a word has registered? It can certainly be exasperating. Yet, for a marriage to prosper, communication is essential. There has to be a reliable bond of confidence and trust, based on a meaningful exchange of thoughts and intimacies.
Sad to say, some seldom or never enjoy this intimate kind of talk. They have a barbed tongue and veil insults with “wit.” People are uncomfortable around them because they never know when they will feel the tongue’s sharp edge. As the Bible proverb puts it: “There are some whose thoughtless words pierce like a sword.” How much better, then, to follow the counsel: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” Yes, gracious conversation will never unnecessarily hurt another person’s feelings or undermine dignity.—Proverbs 12:18, The Jerusalem Bible; Colossians 4:6.
So be a conversationalist. Don’t be afraid to break down barriers and bridge gaps. Remember that conversation has been described as “the sweeter banquet of the mind,” “the feast of reason and the flow of soul.” So let your ‘soul flow’ by getting to know people and letting them know you. And just one more point—don’t overwhelm your listener—know when to stop!