The Good News of Jesus spreads most fruitfully within trusting relationships—through both words and actions. Before we do much verbal sharing about Jesus as the Good News, we must “win the right” to be heard. We do this through getting to know people and loving them well. Love seeks to know others and draws them out through conversation.
Below are some tips for improving our conversational skills, which strengthen our relationships and help us to eventually hear the faith stories of our friends. Prompting conversation and listening well are pre-requisite skills for sharing our faith in Christ. Whether introverted or extroverted, we are all called to care for people by asking good questions and listening attentively. Pray about this; ask the Lord for courage and for open doors!
10 Tips for Leading Better Conversations
- Ask questions! This takes effort, thought and intentionality.
- Make them the expert. Everyone is an “expert” in something and loves to talk about it. Find it.
- Be genuinely curious, amazed, interested and reverent towards people. The Grand Canyon is a smaller miracle than each of us quirky humans.
- Seek first to understand. Everyone has a deep desire to be known and understood—including you. Sacrifice some of your desire to be known, for a bit, while you give another the dignity of being truly listened to / understood / the center of attention.
- Ask about the details. “Tell me more about that.” Who, what, where, when, why…? (Fewer yes/no questions)
- Use differences as a help to conversation, not a hindrance. Don’t simply look for things in common, and don’t worry if you don’t have much in common. Differences present an easy opportunity to ask more questions. “I don’t know the first thing about that! Tell me more about it…” Don’t be afraid to ask “dumb” questions. The other person will be happy to educate you!
- Be fully present, and truly LISTEN. No multi-tasking (bodily or mentally). Not half in, half out. The person in front of you is the most important thing right now.
Even when you think of something you want to say in response, keep on listening. Avoid formulating questions and responses while the other person is talking. Let those thoughts come and go as you continue to listen.
- Watch your body language. Smile once in a while! Unfold those arms?
- Win the right to be heard. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Eventually they may ask you some questions. Then you can talk more about yourself, your thoughts, your stories, your faith.
- Don’t argue. Don’t pontificate. Try to avoid hot-button issues. If an issue comes up, in which someone disagrees with the Church, your first goal is NOT to defend, but to help the person feel understood. (Note: causing someone to feel understood and empathizing is not the same thing as agreeing. You may be the first Catholic not to argue with this person or make them feel condemned. This will build trust and possibly curiosity.)
Some Questions / Conversation Starters
This is simply a list of questions to give you ideas of how to get acquainted with new people. Obviously, you will have to personalize them. In general, do not overthink this!
- Where are you from? Do you live around here?
- Do you have family?
- If so, find names, kids’ ages, how long married, how did you meet?
- What do you do (work/school)?
- Tell me more about that. How long have you been doing it? Did you study for it?
- What’s your major?
- What’s most rewarding? What’s most difficult?
- Do you travel? Work or fun? Where do you like to go? Favorite place? Least favorite place? Why?
- What do you like to do (hobbies)?
- Ask lots of follow up questions here. How did you begin? Why do you like it? How do you do it?
- What do you like to read? What are you currently reading?
If the time/context is appropriate, and initial trust is in place, here are some initial spiritual questions
- How long have you been going to church here?
- Did you grow up Catholic/Christian (or whatever is appropriate)?
- What was that like? Did you pray as a family?
- Who was most influential in your faith as a child?
- What’s your faith life like now?
- How would you describe your experience of God?
- What does your prayer look like for you? How did it get here? Did someone help you?