Talking To Strangers: Cruising Altitude

“This is your captain speaking. I have turned off the fasten seatbelt sign and you are now free to move about the cabin. We ask that if you are in your seats, that you keep your seatbelt on in case of bumpy skies.”

As I stated in the last article, the beginning and ending of a conversation are much like takeoff and landings in an airplane — the most difficult moments. We want to talk to someone and what happens? We get very nervous, start to sweat, get tongue-tied and before we know it we’ve chickened out again. But let’s say we actually start a conversation; we’ve used the A.R.E. method, but things seem to slip. What happens when we are free to move about the cabin and things get bumpy and we get tossed into someone’s lap? Those embarrassing moments when we run out of things to talk about but want to keep the conversation going. One thing I like to use is the F.O.R.M. method.

The F.O.R.M Method

No matter what conversation I am in, if I use this tactic I can easily ask one of the FORM questions and think about what I will say next. This gives me ample time to get my thoughts, and nerves, together and get back on track with the dialogue. FORM is an easy-to-remember acronym of the basic categories of questions you will ask: Family, Occupation, Recreation and/or Motivation.

Family – Who Are You With?

Just about every person on the planet has family somewhere. At one point we all had a mother and a father; we had to been born from someone. Even Jesus, the Son of God, had to come in human form through Mary. Though Joseph was not related to Him, the bible speaks of Jesus’ lineage through Josephs – the line of David (Matthew 1:1).

While men are usually asked, “What do you do”; women are usually asked, “Who are you with?” This is meant to ask about her husband or children. Using family as a springboard can spark many questions in relation to: family members, vacations, funny stories, things everyone is doing, school, etc. Just thinking about the funny moments in my family and the things I have done as a youth makes me smile; prompts me to be talkative.

Occupation – What Do You Do?

As I stated in the previous section, men are usually asked, “What do you do?” Men are…well, mostly…the breadwinners. Their status in the world comes from their job or position. This can spark a great deal of conversation, and you can get a rough sketch of the person you are talking with.

But let’s say that you are talking with a person who has lost their job and not employed at the moment. Have no fear, there are many reasons for that. It’s best to read body language and facial cues to see if this is a sore subject, or one that strikes up a lengthy dialogue. If it is, just politely back away from the question. Say something like, “I’m sorry, I can see that this might be a sensitive topic for you…?” Then quickly move on to another FORM category. Personally, occupation has always been a sore topic for me. Even though I usually don’t like telling people what I do, I will either start and/or follow up with what it allows me to accomplish for God’s kingdom. And that is what I love to talk about.

Recreation – What Do You Like?

So maybe talking about family or your job isn’t your thing — which usually the questions get turned onto us. You may want to consider talking about what you do like.

Everybody likes something. Whether its a hobby, what people read, a sports team or playing sports…there is always something to talk about in this category. The great thing about this category is that you will probably get more interesting answers than the other categories. Most of the time I’d rather start here.

You can tell alot about the free time of individuals and what they do. I had a very lengthy conversation with my wife’s Uncle John who makes handmade pens out of wood in his shop. Yes, those very wooden pens that are pictured on my homepage. I was so intrigued by his hobby that I just had to know more about it. This then led to more fascinating dialogue about politics and church; you know, the two topics people normally avoid. To see his eyes light up when I genuinely wanted to know more about his hobby, was worth every minute to me. It genuinely shows that I care about the small details about the person themselves.

Motivation – What Drives You?

Even though this is probably the most difficult category to draw questions from, it is not impossible. People are motivated by different things. Sometimes bad, but sometimes good. To use this question, you need look at the person and think to yourself, “Has he or she achieved something in their life to be motivated towards?” Maybe you notice the person you are talking to is really fit. You can ask something like, “I noticed that you are really fit. I can’t seem to be motivated in that area. How do you do it?” When you put it together like that you not only build up the person’s ego a little and their hard work shows, but also touch their intellectual side and want to learn from them as well.

Look at a person and ponder if he or she has excelled in a certain area. Maybe they have a degree, wrote a book or even play a sport that seems difficult. Whatever it is that they accomplished, ask them how they did it. You will be amazed at the answers you get. Then you can climb the ladder and get to that spiritual question you really want to talk about.

I challenge you to start getting into conversations with strangers. Use the A.R.E. method and look for things in the immediate area to talk about; then keep it going with the FORM method. Challenge yourself even further to use different ones so that you can see what you’re more comfortable with. But even if you don’t turn it into a spiritual conversation, you have challenged yourself, brightened your day and someone else’s.

Our trip is almost over, and we will be landing shortly. Next we will be looking at Talking to Strangers: The Decent and how to switch from the average every-day life, to the spiritual…the things we really want to talk about and the heart of the reason for the small-talk.

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