The Art of Conversation

The first thing I noticed when I arrived in the U.S. was the accents. It was surreal…it felt like I was on a movie set! Three years later, I don’t notice them anymore, however, it has certainly made me more conscious of the way I speak and what I say. As I find my words becoming infected with an American accent, I am reminded of how important communication is. We talk to people every day – it is a vital part of our lives, and yet, I often find myself struggling to communicate effectively with people. 

A conversation with a stranger is simple: learn their name, learn something about them, wish them well. Sometimes you might need something from them, such as assistance at a checkout or directions. It is conversations with acquaintances or even friends, however, that I find difficult. There are many possible reasons for this: we are all subject to the human desire to be accepted and we don’t want to be ridiculed by someone for a simple, snap judgment that is based on limited information. We want to be seen as ‘nice people’. Still, no matter what excuses we come up with to not have deep conversations with people—whether it be to maintain a good impression or to protect ourselves from judgment and rejection—it is still necessary to have these conversations. Human connection requires it. We require shared experiences that discourage us from focusing solely on ourselves and sharing shows us that no one really has it figured out, we’re all flawed and learning as we go. 

Conversations are one of the few ways that we can really get to know another person. Through communication, we discover better ways to serve one another. That is why it’s so important that we learn how to communicate in a way that doesn’t shut people down. Here are some things I have learned and practice to help me engage in better conversations…after all, conversing is an art form that can be learned!

Body Language
When we communicate, we pick up on more non-verbal cues than we realize. Something as simple as changing how we stand when we converse can have a huge impact. An open stance can help the other person feel more at ease. You can achieve this by keeping your arms relaxed by your side or on your lap and not having them cross your body. 

Another way you can communicate is by mirroring the stance or position of the other person. If the other person is leaning to one side in their chair, do the same. If they cross their legs, do the same. If the other person has their arms crossing their body—a sign of defensiveness and protection—you can help put them at ease by first mirroring their body language and then gradually opening out into a relaxed, attentive listening position. 

A third way of connecting with people is making eye contact. This shows assertiveness and confidence, but it needs to be used carefully as it can also be seen as aggressive if overused. Still, glancing into someone’s eyes can help stimulate connection between people. I appreciate how simple these physical techniques are because they allow you to reflect the other person’s state without taking it on as your own. 

Listening
Listening is so important for good communication. The hard part about trying to listen to someone is that we only hear our own interpretation of what they said. A good way to communicate while listening is to clarify what they are saying through reflection. Sometimes it is as simple as repeating what they have said to make sure that you understand it. Psychologists are taught ‘active listening’ which has a similar premise – to be actively aware of the other person’s points.

Validation
A final thing that I have learned about conversations is that validating the human experience leads to a deeper connection. All people want to be heard, known and understood. And it’s up to us to provide that human warmth and connection, something that you can’t get from your favourite plant, pet rock, your cat or even man’s best friend. Validating someone doesn’t mean you have to have gone through the same experience. It doesn’t mean that you have to like, affirm or agree with their interpretation of their experience. It just means that you confirm that their experience is something that occurs within a human spectrum and that they are not alone. 

I have found these help me focus on the important parts of communication and help put the other person at ease. After all, you only have power over one side of the discussion. We can approach nearly any subject, especially important topics, if we do so with kindness and warmth. To recap, these are the simple things you can do to help focus your attention on the other person and remain warm and open during a conversation:

Body language 
• Maintain a relaxed body posture 
• Mirror the body language of the other person
• Make good eye contact

Listening
• Seek regular clarification 
• Reflect and repeat back what the other person has said to you.

Validation 
• Remember that the other person longs to be heard
• Be warm and open rather than critical
• Confirmed that the other person’s experience is real and important to them.

We may make mistakes in every conversation that we have, but there’s good news: we have the rest of our lives to practice!! My goal has always been similar with every person I’ve met: get to know them and have an interaction in which they feel valued in some way. I encourage you to give some of these suggestions a go and see if you notice a difference in your conversations. Hopefully, with practice, we will all grow to be better communicators and find more ways to serve our neighbours!

Healed By His Stripes

“And by his stripes we are healed. ” (Isaiah 53:5 )

Healing is a miraculous process, and yet we never seem to give thanks for it. It would sound rather humdrum, like ‘thanks for the maintenance’, no more than an afterthought. We glory in creation and if we are responsive to the Lord’s bounty we give thanks every day, but maintenance is generally considered to be rather menial although it keeps us going. 

I am presently reminded of it as I am recovering from a minor foot operation in which a stainless-steel plate and eight screws were removed from my left foot. They had been inserted there three years previously, during a lengthy foot reconstruction, and had never settled comfortably in my flesh. Without them I feel liberated, though the scar makes its presence felt from time to time: mostly at untimely moments when I crave total healing. The worst aspect of feet is that they are forced to bear the full weight of the human being before they are ready.  Not my favourite body part – we are not good friends.

Spiritual healing is even more demanding. As we examine ourselves, we inevitably stumble across an area of our lives that badly needs reconstruction and repair. We are obliged to act in the opposite way from what we have been used to although we have only damaged tools to use. We are, because we are human, operating within the limits of mediate good. The Lord does not expect perfection at once, but if we try, and ask for His lavish help, He will help us to heal and enjoy the happiness that He has designed for us. By His coming He has enabled us to be liberated from the tyranny of pain and evil ‘and by his stripes we are healed’. He has freed us to be healthy through the strengthening of our will and love. ‘Thank You for the maintenance’ comes naturally at last.

Unrevealed

Editor’s note – today’s post was written by Lori Odhner and published as a Marriage Moat. Lori writes these messages and sends them as weekday emails as well as posting them on social media. Throughout the year ahead we’ll be sharing a few of our favorites.

photo by Jenny Stein

There is a line in a song that I have wondered about. 

“Unrevealed until its season, only God alone can see.”

It explores cycles, and emerging fruit as evidence of how God brings life from emptiness. The splendor of birth never gets old. 

Yet there is another reason God tarries. 

Before John and I were married we were both complacent about our tempers. Or rather, the lack of them. We had no occasion to get snippy as single adults which was proof that we were unflappable. We might not have been brash enough to say as much, but we thought it. 

Enter children. 

It turned out that anger was a very present danger, and I saw an aspect of my character that had been dormant. I had no awareness that it was part of who I was. God did. But He took His sweet time allowing me to find out. 

It might be tempting to suggest that motherhood was the cause of my angst. But that is as much of an illusion as the notion of a sunrise. The orb of light didn’t arrive out of nowhere. It was me who was in the dark. 

Uncovering my personal propensity to fury, or blame, or contempt is not a feel good situation. But ignorance as an excuse has an expiration date. There comes a point when I need to own up to my dark side. 

Upheaval is more than an exercise in confusion. It is a chance to uncover ugliness so that we might choose otherwise. It was not that I had decided to be a calm person, pre babies. It was that no one had ever tested the tensile strength of my serenity. 

My prayer as I step between the land mines that have been buried into the current landscape, is to disarm the bombs within me. 

Love,
Lori

Time and Space

My mind has been travelling across ages and times just lately. History, place, other worlds, imagination, reality, things ephemeral yet real. 

One of my mother’s oft-used phrases was ‘Time and space, time and space!’, spoken when the lack of both caused frustration in her busy life. Now that she’s in the next world, time and space are different – non-existent, even.

I’ve recently had a week’s holiday in Llwyn Celyn in Wales, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. This ‘medieval hall house’ was built originally in 1420 and has hardly changed since around 1690, though it was still inhabited until about 10 years ago. Then it was taken over by The Landmark Trust, which has restored it to how it would have been in 1690. Time and space became rather fluid for me there, gazing at the many honest repairs in woodwork, beams, doors, window frames, floors, stonework – pondering how human life has changed (or not) through the centuries. Early each morning, the only sounds were prolific birdsong and bleating sheep and lambs. The view from the front door was timeless – sweeping valleys and tall hills, bucolic in the early sunshine.

Through the evenings, I read The Little Prince to my 8- and 10-yr-old grandchildren. The little prince travelled through time and space, learning important things about people, and about what truly matters. ‘We can only truly see with the heart. What is important is invisible to the eyes.’ 

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