The Makings Of A Great Conversation


We all know that conversations — of a wide variety — are what make up the life and work of those in ministry. Much more so than programs.

And we also know that conversations are the bread and butter of mentoring relationships.

While some things will be learned through shared experience, much of what we share with students comes in the form of conversation — over meals, coffee, and number of places across campus.

Conversations are key.

But do we really know what goes into a good conversation?

How about a great one.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to believe that the difference between a good conversation and a great one has much to do with hitting the right portions of the same 5 ingredients:

1. Listening

2. Asking good questions

3. Speaking a word of wisdom or advice

4. Prayer

5. Repeat

Listening — Every conversation will include a portion of listening — if it doesn’t, it’s not a conversation. It’s a lecture. And the vast majority of our students are not looking for another lecture — at least not from us. They want to talk with us — and more specifically, they want to be heard. We should listen much (MUCH!) more than we talk.

Asking good questions — Questions are key to good and great conversations. The best questions are thoughtful, sensitive, timely, and to the point. Knowing when and how to ask great questions is something that develops over time. It takes work. And it makes a big difference in the quality of the conversation.

Speaking a word — We’ve all heard the parable, “give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for life.” We should keep this in mind when speaking. And I’m not suggesting that we should be constantly “teaching” our students in the midst of our conversations. In a way, that’s the giving of fish. The real teaching, I believe, is in knowing when not to talk. Creating space for the student to figure things out for themselves, and assisting with timely questions that might help them get “unstuck” when necessary will be significant. And yes, so will the nugget of truth, insight, or wisdom that we discern to be what the Lord would have us to share. But our role of speaking should be minimal — in order to maximize its potential impact.

Prayer — The best conversations — especially within the context of mentoring relationships — are marinated in prayer. This may or may not mean that we actually pray vocally during or at the end of our conversation with a student. Whenever possible I think it should be included — because students probably find themselves prayed for by others (adults in particular) much less often than we think. And when it doesn’t seem right to pray (out loud) during the conversation — praying within is a great option. And praying before, during, and after should be common practice for those of us who want to be used by God in the lives of students.

Repeat — And of course, every good (and great) relationship should include numerous conversations. Mentoring relationships should consist of regular get-togethers for the purpose of sharing, thinking together, discerning wisdom and direction, and ultimately thanking God for the good (no — great!) work He is actively doing.

If I were creating a recipe card for Making a Great Conversation, it might look something like this:

10 parts listening

3 -5 parts asking good questions (depending on how much prompting the individual might need)

1-2 parts speaking a word

Marinate thoroughly in prayer

Repeat often

And a big factor in determining whether the conversation we have with students will be good or great has to do with our ability to discern how much of what ingredient is needed at what time.

So that’s my current working recipe for a Great Conversation…

Have I missed anything?

What would you add to this working recipe for Great Conversations?


About the author: Guy Chmieleski
Guy is the Founder and President of Faith On Campus. He is also the University Minister at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. He is the author of Shaping Their Future: Mentoring Students Through Their Formative College Years and CAMPUS gODS: Exposing the Idols That Can Derail Your Present and Destroy Your Future.