The Conversational Maven

Michael Phelps didn’t become the greatest swimmer in history by taking warm baths all the time. In fact, in his pursuit of winning an unprecedented eight gold medals in the 2008 Olympics, Phelps spent extraordinary amounts of time not only in the water, but diligently developing his swimming skills. In the seven years leading up to the Olympics, he spent only five days out of the water! Phelps didn’t accomplish something that no one else has ever done by simply having contact with water.

This same principle applies to how we use our words in conversations. We can’t simply be in contact with words and expect to become Olympic level conversationalists.

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Conversations are what we do as human beings—we talk, we listen and we exchange words with one another. Some of us tend to talk more, while others tend to listen more, but if you have any doubt that conversations virtually define our human experience, listen to these statistics.

The average person says between 13,000 and 20,000 words per day. Men speak approximately 4.68 million words per year and 375 billion words in a lifetime. And women speak approximately a trillion words in a lifetime. That’s a lot of talking!

Despite the difference of a few hundred billion words between men and women spoken throughout life, the reality remains—we all know how to talk.

But … just because we are good at talking doesn’t mean we are good at conversation.

It’d be a mistake to think that because we’re inundated with words, that we will automatically excel in dialogue.

Just as someone who has excessive contact with water doesn’t (as a result) become an Olympic swimmer, so it is with conversations. Becoming a skilled swimmer is determined by what someone actually does while they are in the water. It’s how they practice, how they strengthen their muscles and how they treat their bodies.

Michael Phelps didn’t become the greatest swimmer in history by taking warm baths all the time. In fact, in his pursuit of winning an unprecedented eight gold medals in the 2008 Olympics, Phelps spent extraordinary amounts of time not only in the water, but diligently developing his swimming skills. In the seven years leading up to the Olympics, he spent only five days out of the water! In addition, he ate between 10,000 and 12,000 calories per day to gain the energy he needed. Oh how I wish I could eat that many calories and have a physique like his. Phelps didn’t accomplish something that no one else has ever done by simply having contact with water.

This same principle applies to how we use our words in conversations. We can’t simply be in contact with words and expect to become Olympic level conversationalists.

Conversational mavens are experts of dialogue who understand the power of words and are able to create, sustain and catalyze substantial and meaningful conversations that affect people’s lives, even after the conversation is over.

Leaders who establish the deepest levels of influence are those whose interpersonal conversations leave a lasting and distinct mark. They consistently walk away from a dialogue having provoked new thoughts and ideas that people continue to mull over even after the interaction ends. This doesn’t mean they always try to say something profound, because often their impact comes through a question they ask, by expressing something they’ve been pondering, or by simply challenging someone’s paradigm of thinking (Jesus is an extraordinary example of this). And to take it one step further, conversational mavens leave their most lasting marks by listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and obeying them in the conversations they find themselves in.

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Being a conversational maven is not just about being clever or witty with our words, and it’s not simply about making people feel good, or even making ourselves feel good. It begins by understanding the gravity of our words so that we learn to use each and every one of them to generate life, inspire greatness, bring us closer to one another and, ultimately, to unite people with the God who created them.

The essence of conversation involves stringing our words together to create the impact we long to make. The words we choose to use are primarily how we relate to one another, and if we want to increase our impact, we must spend them wisely because conversations are the currency of our relationships. How we spend our words determines the quality and depth of our relationships as well as the expansion of our influence.

To become a conversational maven, we must never underestimate the substantial impact even one conversation can have, remembering that our words can be a force of good that creates life, or a force of negativity and evil that breeds pain, brokenness and dysfunction (James 3:2-11). If we ignore the power of words, and more importantly the God who desires to speak His words through us, we’ll miss great opportunities to make a significant impact on people’s lives.

If we’re going to seize the great opportunities that emerge in our relationships, we must become mavens who strengthen our conversational skills, consistently practice the discipline of creating meaningful and intentional dialogue, and spend our words wisely in every interaction we engage in. Most of all, we must pay attention to the leadings of the Spirit as He guides us in this quest, and then we’ll be on our way to becoming a masterful expert of dialogue, a true conversational maven.

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