by Caitlin Meadows
Does anyone really like small talk?
“Hi! How are you?” “I’m well, thanks! How are you?” “I’m good!”
And with that, social etiquette deems both individuals free to part ways.
We make small talk countless times throughout each week. On auto-pilot we ask about the other person’s well being. No second thought must be given to their answer. We generally don’t wonder if “I’m well” or “I’m good” statements are true. Trained to be polite, we hardly even listen to the response. As an ambivert who leans more toward introversion, I often handle small talk as something to get over with as painlessly as possible.
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 auto-pilot 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 the other person. How? Through communication. In this situation, I quickly switch off auto-pilot and turn on what should always be my default setting – intentionally communicating with grace.
Avoiding Small Talk Through Intentionality
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, it is important that we are not 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. To handle our daily communication with this sort of mindfulness is to avoid the complacency of small talk, opting to instead communicate with grace.
Communication 101: What is it?
We all communicate every day. It is unavoidable. Therefore, it is important to have a basic understanding of what it involves. Communication occurs when two or more individuals send and receive a message. This is done using both words (spoken and written) and non-verbal 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 who is attempting to communicate with us, we are non-verbally communicating back to them selflessness and humility.
…Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” – Matthew 20:26-27
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves.” – Philippians 2:3
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 simple body language like eye contact and nodding, the person we are in conversation with knows his or her message is being received.
While showing that we are listening through our body language is an important aspect of communication, seeking clarification takes our listening a step further.
Asking clarifying questions when it is our turn to speak validates the other person. It demonstrates that we are putting effort into understanding the situation they are sharing. Another benefit of clarification is that it helps reduce the occurrence of misunderstandings.[ref]Clarifying and Clarification. SkillsYouNeed.com/IPS/Clarification.html[/ref]
To clarify is to put in your own words the message you are receiving. Examples of clarifying questions are:
“So, what you’re saying is…”
“In other words, you feel…”
“Am I right to understand that you…”
These sorts of questions 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 various communications with one another, we have the opportunity to 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 day? If so, relax knowing that communicating intentionally with grace can (and sometimes must) be short and sweet. And that’s okay! What matters is where our motivation lies as we approach one another. Is our motivation wrong, like my usual default of wanting to get interactions over with? Or is it with the intention to lovingly and gracefully serve others?
With Christ as our King, He enables us by His grace working through us to lead on His behalf. Even through our various communications with one another. For apart from Him, we really cannot bear His fruit (John 15:4). But, when we live each day surrendered to Him, He infuses us with both the desire and the ability to reflect His character in all that we say and do. As a result, we no longer must hide behind small talk. Instead we can communicate intentionally with grace.
A version of this article was originally published in The Bible Advocate.