Points to Ponder: The art of conversation: don't talk much

Points to Ponder
The art of conversation: don't talk much

Do you know anyone who is a "good conversationalist"? Do you notice that people who are considered good conversationalists aren't doing most of the talking?
Good conversationalists are good listeners. They engage you in conversation and seem to be truly interested in what you're saying. When they say, "How's life going with you?" they really want to know. They'll ask follow-up questions and even remember things you said on the topic a month ago and weave it into the conversation.
Certainly we enjoy talking to good storytellers, or people who excel at something we also love; however, a conversation is a verbal exchange of lives being lived. And most of us long for someone who will listen and take an interest in what's going on in our lives.
"So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath..." (James 1:19).
A good listener will seldom interrupt, giving you ample time to complete your thought and finish your sentence. And they are not chomping at the bit to express their mind, thinking over what they'll say next while you're still speaking. You know how challenging it is to speak with such a person? You wonder if they heard what you said.
But reflect on the art of conversation as you've experienced it done well. A person who listens to you and cares about what you're dealing with is someone whose presence refreshes you. There aren't very many like that in most people's lives. And that prompts a question that you and I should ask ourselves: Am I a good conversationalist? Not, do I talk well; but do I listen well? Am I actively engaging in this person's life through our conversation? I find that I do better with remembering people's names if I pay attention to what interests them. Some would say they have a hard time remembering names of people they don't know. Yes - and that is the point. Getting to know a stranger makes that person a stranger no more.
I've been attending a lot of funerals lately. There are many people who are apprehensive about speaking to the bereaved. "What would I say?" Being there and being silent says a lot. Being ready and willing to just listen is the best gift you can give. The art of conversation is more than an exchange of words.
I sat in a church just prior to a funeral service. Leafing through the hymnal, I turned to the front flap and found a pink sticky note with these handwritten words:
"The real art to conversation is not to only say the right thing at the right time, but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment." - Dorothy Wevill
I wondered if all the hymnals had little words of wisdom posted inside. But what incredible, and profoundly appropriate, wisdom for a time of incredible sadness and pain.
Dorothy Wevill's quote reminded me of what power we have to lift people up through conversation. Yes, it is so good to offer a word of encouragement.
"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver" (Proverb 25:11).
But likewise, the wisdom of self-restraint helps us to carefully weigh the necessity of speaking at all. Some situations are so uncomfortable, we want to feel wise and say something that we hope will help. Yet, as Ms. Wevill noted, the real art of conversation is leaving the wrong thing, the unnecessary comment, unsaid even as you're tempted to think you have wisdom to share. Whom are you trying to impress?
"He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive" (Proverbs 17:27-28).

Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship, 12624 Trinity Church Drive, Clear Spring, MD (1/4 mile east of Clear Spring on Rt. 40). Listen to Pastor Dennis on WJEJ-1240 AM, Tues and Thurs, at 10:45am and 7:50pm, both days. www.hilltopchristianfellowship.com.