“Hi! How are you?”
“I’m well, thanks! How are you?”
And with that, social etiquette deems both individuals free to part ways.
This exchange is made countless times at each church gathering. No second thought is given to the other person’s answer. We generally don’t wonder if “I’m well” or “I’m good” is true. Trained to be polite, we hardly even listen to the response.
As an introvert who has adapted to extroversion, I often handle small talk like this as something to get over with as quickly and painlessly as possible. I fear saying the wrong thing and creating an awkward moment.
However, when the typical response above is substituted with a real answer that expounds upon the reason for the answer provided, I’m suddenly jolted out of my “autopilot” rhythm of etiquette. Now I must engage. My mind must shift gears and focus. Small talk transforms into conversation. In this subtle way, I am given the opportunity to selflessly serve my brother or sister.
How? Through communication. In this situation, I quickly switch off autopilot and turn on what should always be my default setting: intentionally communicating with grace.
As Amber Riggs has written in “Why Jesus-Followers Should See Themselves as Leaders” (Artios Magazine.org), whether we are an official ministry leader or not, every person who has chosen to follow Christ is re-created by Him to lead (2 Corinthians 5:17, 20). Our daily communication is the most practical way that we can influence our circles for Christ. Conversely, it is the most practical way that we can deter them from Him.
For this reason, we must not be lackadaisical in our conversations. We must approach our interactions with others with the intention of pointing them to Jesus. Our minds must be made up ahead of time to be forgiving of others as well, because sometimes miscommunication occurs that can be hurtful. Handling our daily communication with this sort of mindfulness avoids the complacency of small talk, opting instead to communicate with grace.
We all communicate every day; we cannot avoid it. Therefore, we must have a basic understanding of what communication involves. It occurs when two or more individuals send and receive a message. They do this using both words (spoken and written) and nonverbal cues (e.g., facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice). Using these communication symbols, here are three ways to avoid small talk and intentionally communicate with grace.
Listening is more than just hearing. Humans have this wonderful ability to tune things out. In effect, our brains can hear all sorts of sounds without processing them. Remember suddenly catching yourself missing important information in high school and college lectures? Your mind had drifted. You weren’t listening.
When we choose to actively listen to a person attempting to communicate with us, we are non-verbally communicating back to them selflessness and humility. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3, ESV).
By giving our time to allow another person to communicate with us, we are serving them. We are showing them, through our undivided attention, that they are valuable and that we respect their thoughts and needs. With humility we listen to understand, suspending our thoughts to better comprehend what the other person is sharing.
Through our simple body language, like eye contact and nodding, the person we’re in conversation with knows their message is being received.
While showing that we’re listening in this way, seeking clarification takes our listening a step further.
When it’s our turn to speak, SkillsYouNeed.com suggests clarifying the person’s remarks to validate them. Doing this demonstrates that we’re putting effort into understanding the situation they’re sharing. Another benefit of clarification is that it helps reduce the occurrence of misunderstandings. To clarify is to put in your own words the message you’re receiving. Examples of clarifying responses are
“So, what you’re saying is . . . .”
“In other words, you feel . . . .”
“Am I right to understand that you . . . .”
These sorts of responses might seem unnatural, but they go a long way toward avoiding frustration and conflict that frequently result from miscommunication.
As members of the body of Christ, we are a community made up of individuals in relationship with Christ and with each other. Small talk should be avoided because it is usually superficial.
To avoid superficiality and communicate intentionally with grace, we must relate with one another in our conversations. By sharing about our similar experiences and offering empathy, we develop mutual trust. In our conversations with one another, we can cultivate appropriate relationship by connecting on a personal level.
Are you beginning to feel a bit exhausted just thinking about having this sort of in-depth conversation with everyone you encounter each week at church? If so, relax. Communicating intentionally with grace can (and sometimes must) be short and sweet. And that’s OK! What matters is where our motivation lies as we approach one another. Is it wrong, like my usual default of wanting to get interactions over with? Or is it with the intention to lovingly and gracefully serve others?
Christ as our king enables us by His grace working through us to lead on His behalf — even through our various communications with each other, for apart from Him, we really cannot bear His fruit (John 15:4). But when we live each day surrendered to Him, Christ infuses us with both the desire and the ability to reflect His character in all we say and do. As a result, we no longer must hide behind small talk. Instead we can communicate intentionally with grace.
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