First reaction: "Uh..."
There are about seven hundred directions you could go at that point. So you quickly try to figure out what you should say. Here's the typical mental checklist we go through when responding:
- What is this person interested in knowing?
- How much time is he/she willing to dedicate to this chat?
- How much time am I willing to dedicate to this chat?
- When was the last time I talked to this person?
- Why did I let myself get trapped in this conversation?
You finally respond: "Not much, stayin' busy." Or, "Pretty good."
And that's as deep as it goes. A few more pleasantries about the weather and the kids, and you're on your merry way. It shouldn't be this way among Christians.
Although each of us experiences interchanges like this all of the time, I've recently gone through a bit of a conversation overload. My wife and I are missionaries who have returned to our home state for a short one-week sabbatical. We've seen a lot of people we haven't seen in awhile and chit-chats have been in abundance.
I absolutely love talking to people, but something I've come to realize through these interactions is that many times the same generic phrases come out of everyone's mouths -- including my own. My favorite standby phrase is, "How ya doin'?" And that, of course, doesn't reveal a lot of real care for the other person. It's not exactly the holy kiss with which Peter urged us to greet one another.
It's kind of like speaking to a toddler. You say things not so much for the response, but because you feel like the person should see that you're acknowledging him or her.
Well, we should correct that.
The most enjoyable person to talk to is the one who asks good questions. When someone seems genuinely interested in your life and the things you're doing, it makes you feel as though you matter and that what you do affects others. Conversations birthed by caring questions are rewarding and fulfilling. They encourage people to think and grow.
So how can we ask good questions? I'm trying my best to learn how to do this from people who are good at it and here's what I've come up with.
Know what other people are up to.
This doesn't mean you should be nosy. It just means that you should be aware. As believers who are brothers and sisters of the same Father in heaven, our concern for one another should outweigh our concern for ourselves. If people send out updates, read them. If you haven't heard from someone in a while, reach out to him or her. Find out what people are doing.
Seek specific answers.
The hardest part about answering the "Whatchya been up to?" question is that it's so open-ended and calls for no specific response. It's obvious that the person asking this question has no idea what he should say, so it's up to the responder to steer the conversation. That's not the way it should be. If you're kicking off a chat with someone and (hopefully) you know what he/she has been up to, ask a specific question that calls for a specific answer.
This is the most important step. Nothing says "I don't care" quite like looking over someone else's shoulder, staring at another person doing something on the other side of the room while the person you're talking to is responding to a question. Eye contact and reactions do a lot for meaningful dialogue. If for no other reason, listening at least shows that you respect the other person's time.
Ask follow-up questions.
You go into the conversation knowing what the person has been up to; you start the conversation by asking pointed questions; you carry on the conversation by finding out more information and asking more specific questions. This should really be considered Conversation 101. Unfortunately, most of the time when people ask the bland "How's it going?" question, it seems like they're hoping you'll give a quick response and turn the spotlight back onto them. After all, they're really interesting and stuff. Don't be that guy.
Hopefully these tips help you a bit as you seek to connect with others. Engaging in conversation is at the core of who we are as human beings and it's essential to Christian fellowship. Be a good conversationalist; love God and love His people.