"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
April 3, 2013
Strengthening Others through Our Conversation
by Kathryn Grant

On the awkwardness scale, a situation that has to fall near the “most awkward” end is trying to have a conversation when no one can think of anything to say. I remember going out to dinner with a group of co-workers. These were intelligent, capable people, and they weren't shy. But when we got to the restaurant, away from work, it was surprisingly hard at times to keep the conversation going.

Most of us have probably experienced something similar when we walk into church and see someone new, or someone we barely know, sitting alone. We feel we should say something, but we’re not sure what. We feel uneasy if we don't reach out, but we may feel just as uneasy as we do.

It might be tempting to tell ourselves we’re just shy or that we don’t do well in social situations. Fortunately, conversing comfortably is a skill anyone can gain and improve.

Why does conversation matter? It’s one of the key ways we build relationships with others. In a conversation with some new friends at the recent RootsTech family history conference, I heard one brother observe that today’s young missionaries are struggling to share the gospel because, having grown up in a world of texts and tweets, they haven’t developed the skill of relating to others in conversation — something that is essential for a missionary seeking to bring souls to Christ. (This isn’t a rant about technology, by the way — conversational challenges existed long before smartphones and tablets.)

In D&C 108:7 (http://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/108.7?lang=eng#6), the Lord counsels us to "strengthen [our] brethren [and sisters] in all [our] conversation." We can only do this if we actually do converse with others.

So what are a few simple things we can do to make conversing with others easier and more enjoyable?

Take the focus off yourself. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and take a genuine interest in their lives.

Ask questions and then really listen to the answers. Asking questions is one of the simplest ways to spark a conversation. Open-ended questions are especially helpful because they encourage others to talk. For example:

  • What’s one of your favorite places to visit?

  • What are some of your favorite books?

  • What do you like to do in your free time? (Sometimes this question elicits a laughing response, “What free time?” Then you could ask, “What would you like to do if you had free time?”)

Based on the answers, you can ask follow-up questions. (“That sounds like an interesting hobby. How did you get started?”)

Be sensitive. Some “standard” questions can be potentially awkward: once I unthinkingly asked a new acquaintance how many children he and his wife had — the answer was none because they weren't able to have children. He was gracious, but I learned a good lesson: ask general questions instead (“Tell me about yourself’) and let people volunteer information (or not), depending on what's comfortable for them.

The challenge for this week’s column is to practice your conversational skills. If you find yourself using something (technology or anything else) to avoid speaking with others, make a choice not to let that thing get in the way. Look others in the eye and hear what they have to say. The conversation doesn’t have to be deep or life-changing; just make genuine contact with another human being.

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About Kathryn Grant

Kathryn Grant is a user assistance professional with a passion for usability and process improvement. She also loves family history and enjoys the challenge and reward of building her family tree.

As a child, she lived outside the United States for four years because of her father's job. This experience fueled her natural love of words and language, and also taught her to appreciate other cultures.

Kathryn values gratitude, teaching, learning, differences, and unity. She loves looking at star-filled skies, reading mind-stretching books, listening to contemporary Christian music, attending the temple, and eating fresh raspberries.

Kathryn teaches Sunday family history classes at the BYU Family History Library, and presents frequently at family history events. For more information, visit her Family History Learning Resources page

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