DO YOU generally find it easy to converse with others? For many, the very thought of engaging in conversation, especially with someone they do not know, causes anxiety. Such people may be shy. They may wonder: ‘What should I talk about? How can I get the discussion started? How can I keep it going?’ Confident, outgoing people may tend to dominate a conversation. Their challenge may be to draw others out and to learn to listen to what is said. So all of us, whether shy or outgoing, need to keep cultivating the art of conversation.
Start at Home
To improve your conversation skills, why not start at home? Upbuilding conversation can contribute much to the happiness of a family.
The foremost key to such conversation is caring deeply about one another. (Deut. 6:6, 7; Prov. 4:1-4) When we care, we communicate, and we listen when the other person wants to say something. Another important factor is having something worthwhile to say. If we have a regular program of personal Bible reading and study, there will be much that we can share. Wise use of the booklet Examining the Scriptures Daily can stimulate discussion. During the day, perhaps we have an enjoyable experience in the field service. We may read something that is informative or humorous. We should make it a practice to share these things during wholesome family conversation. This will also help us to converse with people outside the family circle.
Conversing With a Stranger
Many people hesitate to start a conversation with someone they do not know. But because of love for God and for their neighbor, Jehovah’s Witnesses make an earnest effort to learn how to converse in order to share Bible truths with others. What can help you to improve in this area?
The principle stated at Philippians 2:4 is valuable. We are encouraged to keep an eye, “not in personal interest upon just [our] own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” Think of it this way: If you have never met the person before, he views you as a stranger. How can you put him at ease? A warm smile and a friendly greeting will help. But there is more to consider.
You may have interrupted his thoughts. If you try to get him to discuss what is on your mind without concern for what is on his mind, will he respond favorably? What did Jesus do when he met a woman at a well in Samaria? Her mind was on getting water. Jesus initiated his conversation with her on that basis, and he soon turned it into a lively spiritual discussion.—John 4:7-26.
If you are observant, you too can discern what people may be thinking about. Does the person look happy or sad? Is he elderly, possibly infirm? Do you see evidence that there are children in the home? Does it seem that the person is materially well-off or that he struggles to obtain the necessities of life? Do home decorations or personal jewelry indicate a religious influence? If your greeting takes such things into account, the person may view you as someone who shares an interest in common with him.
If you do not meet the householder face-to-face, perhaps only hearing his voice through a locked door, what might you conclude? The person may live in fear. Could you use that information to start a conversation through the door?
In some places it is possible for you to draw a person into conversation by telling him something about yourself—your background, why you have come to his door, why you believe in God, why you began to study the Bible, and how the Bible has helped you. (Acts 26:4-23) Of course, this needs to be done with discretion and with a clear objective in mind. This, in turn, may move the person to tell you something about himself and how he views matters.
In some cultures, hospitality to strangers is customary. People may readily invite you to come in and sit down. Once you are seated, if you make a polite inquiry about the well-being of the family and sincerely listen to the response, the householder may be equally attentive to what you have to say. Other peoples show even more intense interest in visitors, so the preliminary greetings may be extensive. In the process, they may find that they have things in common with you. This can lead to a beneficial spiritual discussion.
What if there are many people in your area who speak languages other than yours? How can you reach these people? If you learn even simple greetings in some of those languages, the people will realize that you are interested in them. This may open the way for further communication.
How to Continue a Conversation
To keep a conversation going, be interested in the thoughts of the other person. Encourage him to express himself if he is willing to do so. Well-chosen questions can help. Viewpoint questions are best because they usually prompt more than a yes or no response. For example, after mentioning a problem of local concern, you could ask: “What do you think has caused this situation?” or “What do you think is the remedy?”
When you ask a question, listen attentively to the reply. Indicate your genuine interest by a word, a nod, a gesture. Do not interrupt. With an open mind, consider what is being said. “Be swift about hearing, slow about speaking.” (Jas. 1:19) When you do respond, show that you were really listening to what was said.
Realize, however, that not everyone will answer your questions. From some people the only response may be raised eyebrows or a smile. Others may simply say yes or no. Do not get frustrated. Be patient. Do not try to force the conversation. If the person is willing to listen, use the opportunity to share upbuilding Scriptural thoughts. In time, the person may come to view you as a friend. Then perhaps he will be willing to share his thoughts more freely.
As you talk with people, have an eye to the future. If a person raises a number of questions, answer some of them but leave one or two for the next time you talk together. Offer to do research, and then share the results with him. If he does not raise questions, you might conclude your conversation with a question that you believe will interest him. Offer to discuss it on the next call. A wealth of ideas can be found in the book Reasoning From the Scriptures, the brochure What Does God Require of Us?, and recent issues of The Watchtower and Awake!
When With Fellow Believers
When you meet another one of Jehovah’s Witnesses for the first time, do you take the initiative to get acquainted? Or do you just stand quietly? Love for our brothers should move us to want to get to know them. (John 13:35) How can you begin? You might simply give your name and ask for the name of the other person. Asking him how he learned the truth will usually lead to an interesting conversation and will help you get to know each other. Even if what you say does not seem to come out fluently, your effort indicates to the other person that you care about him, and that is what is important.
What can contribute to a meaningful conversation with a member of your congregation? Show genuine interest in the person and his family. Has the meeting just concluded? Comment on thoughts that you found helpful. This can be beneficial to both of you. You might mention a point of interest from a recent issue of The Watchtower or Awake! This should not be done as a show or a test of knowledge. Do it to share something in which you found special delight. You might talk about an assignment one of you may have in the Theocratic Ministry School and exchange ideas on how it could be handled. You might also share experiences from the field ministry.
Of course, our interest in people often leads to conversation about people—the things they say and do. Humor too may be part of our speech. Will what we say be upbuilding? If we take to heart the counsel of God’s Word and are motivated by godly love, our speech surely will be upbuilding.—Prov. 16:27, 28; Eph. 4:25, 29; 5:3, 4; Jas. 1:26.
Before we engage in the field ministry, we prepare. Why not prepare an interesting tidbit to share in conversation with friends? As you read and hear things of interest, make note of points that you want to share with others. In time, you will have an abundance from which to choose. Doing this will enable you to broaden out beyond making comments on the daily routine of life. Above all, may your speech give evidence of how precious God’s Word is to you!—Ps. 139:17.