It’s a stupid question, I know, but do we know how to talk with people? Honestly, it’s not natural to go up to a complete stranger and be comfortable talking with them, other than about the humidity or the lousy parking or maybe asking when they went to Yellowstone National Park if they are wearing a t-shirt from there. But, in general, we struggle (and subconsciously avoid) having a conversation with people.
Sometimes we want to, but our brain starts acting like squirrels running around, spastically trying to think of what to say until what stumbles out of our mouth is “social norm speak” and we drop it.
I was talking with a friend the other day who straight up told me, “But, I don’t know how to talk with non-Christians.” So, I shared with him three things that I bring from trips overseas into conversations here.
First, be honest—do you really want to talk with them? It sounds silly, but it’s a valid question. Yesterday I watched as a men’s Bible study that meets at the local coffee shop came in, each guy having the transaction conversation—“Fine. How you doing? I’ll take a medium coffee and a scone…”—and walk away. Sorry, but I’ve watched them do that for years and have never seen one of them go off script. The workers know them as the church guys who huddle together. “All they want is their coffee and Bible.” Interaction lets people know if you care or not.
Second, I use question marks, not periods. God has given us two ears and one mouth, so use them proportionally. I don’t worry about squirrel-like chaos running amuck in my brain because I already know my plan—I ask questions. And I never let a question go solo, but always ask “Why?”, the shortest word that communicates immeasurable value to somebody else, then I listen. Or I’ll ask something simple such as “Hey, tell me one thing that made you laugh…Oh, my gosh, what happened then!?” And I listen. Things open up when people are off script and get talking.
Third, I give people time. To do this well, I cheat. Overseas and in the coffee shop and walking in my neighborhood, when I meet somebody new, I have a little notebook and write their name and a sentence about some small nugget they mentioned. In the coffee shop, I’ll write on a napkin. Hey, my brain won’t remember so why fight it. When I see them later, I try to bring that thing up, no matter how trivial it may seem. That recollection and genuine interest communicates value.
Bonus—laugh. Laughter builds relationships. I don’t understand the psychology behind it, but people feel comfortable with someone who can laugh at themselves or laugh with others. Maybe because laughter is hope.
I think this is how Jesus talked with people. And in time spiritual conversations kind of flowed from that.