Raw Reflections from the Journey

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Conversational Generosity*

I'm spoiled. Most of the folks I trust and feel closest to are Christian Coaching leaders that habitually ask questions and listen well from their hearts. Conversations with them are gratifying because they express interest in my life by asking and then hold my heart by generously listening. When caller ID informs me that one of them is on the phone I get excited, "This will probably be an encouraging conversation."

Contrast these conversations with the ones I have with folks that don't possess either the skill or heart to ask questions that draw out others thoughts, feelings and desires. To me it is like fingernails on a chalkboard. I can hardly stand it, particularly when there is a rare occasion to reconnect with friends from the past. "Why don't they ask any questions about our lives?" I wonder. It's dangerously depressing to fill in the blanks. "They must not care" I conclude. Well, maybe that's true, but maybe there's another explanation...maybe they don't know how!

I had a bit of a pity party for myself recently in a series of second-rate conversations. Topics were superficial, and even though most of my acquaintances from the past were willing to answer my questions, few asked questions about me/us, and the questions they did ask were ineffective. "How are you?" one friend asked. Before I could respond he answered for me..."good I hope". "Yeah, I guess" I replied unenthusiastically, and dishonestly. "Good". And he was off and running to the next anecdote about his life. I've learned to gauge the sincerity of such queries and to even ask, "How much time would you like to invest to hear my answer?" before answering. It is surprising how many say, "Just real quick, thirty seconds or so." I defer to another time, "Let me know when you have some time and I would enjoy a conversation."

You know how when you point the finger at someone that you have three fingers pointing back at you? Well, I'll just go ahead and confess that I'm guilty of being a conversational ball-hog in my past...but I'm trying to recover, and I'm finding that identifying with Jesus and taking His life more and more into mySELF is essential. "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve..."

Back to my coaching friends...if you listened in to our conversations you would possibly gag at the Chip and Dale (cartoon chipmunk) attitude between us. Kathy Stoltzfus* coined this as Conversational Generosity.* This is basically the idea of truly sharing the time allotted for conversation. For example, "I appreciate you asking, and I want to share, but I also want to know about you." We could view this as a skill but it's helpful to look at it as a matter of the heart, too.

What kind of heart must we maintain in order to practice Conversational Generosity? One that is truly humble and willing to serve, I think. Go back to my non-asking friends. How does the conversation change when I forsake my "right" to be heard, turn off the self-pitying conversation in my head, and give myself over to asking and listening about their life?

Just before getting out of our car to attend a wedding recently, Jill and I prayed. "Lord, we are going to run across a lot of people from our past tonight. Please help us to leave ourselves in the car, that we might make the conversations you bring across our path about the hearts of others." Again, Jesus came not to be served, but to serve.

My solace after not being asked or listened to for several days was none other than the One who sticks closer than a brother...Jesus. "You understand this, don't you?" I asked Him. His reply was via a reminder of an ultimate compliment to our Lord, written by the one-time cowardly observer of His passion. "When they hurled insults at Him He did not retaliate. When they beat Him He made no threats. Rather, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly" (I Peter 2:23). Not only did Jesus not complain about being rejected, he remained silent in the face of taunts, and restrained Himself from annihilating His abusers. And NOT JUST THAT...He FORGAVE them!!! "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do." Talk about amazing grace!

Ok, so what have I been whimpering about? Minuscule neglect in conversation. Is it really that big of a deal? Well, it's not as big as the matter of my heart, which is something I can do something about. While I may be able to influence/shape asking and listening of non-skilled friends by modeling, my first focus needs to be my heart. Lord, make my heart like yours; compassionate for even those that are not just neglectful and ignorant, but even those that are mean-spirited. They need to meet you, and it might just be through me. Please help me to not just behave with gracious skill, but also out of a tender and humble heart.

I want to close with a quote from the book referenced below:
The coaching approach forces your conversations to become less about your thoughts, your input, and how you can steer the dialogue around to the answer you think will work. You start listening--really listening--to the other person. You decrease what you say, so that others can increase And that's where the magic happens: the more you listen, the more you see how capable they are, how much they can do with a little encouragement, and what wonderful individuals they are. The more you ask the more you love (emphasis mine) (Tony Stoltzfus, Coaching Questions, p.8).

*Conversational Generosity was coined by Kathy Stoltzfus in her husband's book, "Coaching Questions", available at www.coach22.com. Kathy leads guided spiritual retreats for women that focus on meeting God in silence and in prayer. Contact her at k.stoltzfus@cox.net.

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