6 honest serving men 2

Yesterday we looked at the first two principles of “be a good listener” and “remember the conversation areas“. The areas provide a platform for you to launch into some interesting conversation, but what if your guest is taciturn by nature and responds only in short sentences when spoken to? That’s where the third principle comes in, you “use the conversation expanders“! Rudyard Kipling said, “I keep six honest serving-men; they taught me all I knew. Their names are “what and why and when and how and where and who.”

For example, say your guest emigrated from China. Expanding on the conversation areas, you might ask:
• What led you to come to Toronto? or Why did you choose Toronto?
• When did you come to Canada? Do you still have family in China?
• It must have been difficult coming to a new land, how did you adjust?
• Now that you’ve been here a while, which places have you visited? Where would you recommend a newcomer go for help?
• Of all that you’ve seen so far, what or who impressed you the most? Why?

Of the expanders, what, why and how are more open-ended than when, where and who, which tend to return close-ended, short answers. Try to use the former more often, and you will be able to probe and expand to find areas of interest to both you and your guest.

The conversation expanders are useful, but still they work mostly with facts. The fourth principle helps us to “move below the surface” by exploring the following areas:
1. Ideas and feelings,
2. Challenges, frustrations and concerns,
3. Dreams and goals,
4. Achievements,
5. Inspiration

Ask questions such as:
• What do you think is the reason behind …?
• How do you feel about …?
• What are the challenges you face in your job? What frustrates you? What are your main concerns?
• What’s your dream? What are you aiming at?
• What do you consider your greatest achievements to-date?
• Who inspires you? What keeps you going when the going gets tough?
These open-ended questions dig beyond the superficial facts and figures into the heart. They get into the issues the individual is struggling with, his goals, his motivation. There people reveal their inner self, and when you share at that level you begin to build deep relationships.

The last principle, “respond in love“, helps you reach that deep level. People protect themselves by hiding behind generalities; they open up only when they feel they are safe. So, to provide an environment where people can share freely to build relationships, we have to accentuate the positive and respond in love. We need to do 3 things:
1. Affirm, affirm, affirm.
2. Would it help if I …
3. Offer a short prayer

Focus on the good that had been said. Hold the negatives in abeyance. It does not mean you ignore the problems, just suspend judgment until such time we address the issues to resolve them. Offer help. Say, “Would it help if I …”; fill in with whatever concrete action you can take to relieve the situation. Offer a short prayer. Even if you are unable to do much about the situation, God can, so offer to pray for the person and the challenge, inviting God to deliver them from the plight they’re in.

If you continue using the conversation expanders, move below the surface, and respond in love, you’ll find that you get to know your friend better and better. The relationship gets stronger and stronger and you’ll build each other up for God’s glory.

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