As the title of this post says, people are important. God really cares about people and tells us to, too. But as we live in a fallen world interacting with people can be tricky. We all bring our insecurities, past hurts, disappointments and the like into our relationships. That’s why we need to learn some basic skills to learn how to interact with people. Implementing these are a pain, which is why most people don’t bother. However as Christians we are commanded to, so we might as well learn how to make the process as smooth as possible. This is especially important for those in the pastoral work.
Living in a community where everyone is training for ministry – i.e. working with people – I’ve been surprised how poor many people’s relational skills are here. Not that I’m a paragon of social excellence; I often say the wrong thing and am fairly awkward with basic relational protocol. But I do try. Granted people are under pressure at seminary, but most social skills are fairly effortless.
Here’s a list of some things you can do to make people feel you care.
1. If you see someone you know acknowledge them. This morning at the library one of my next door neighbors was walking past me so I looked at her and smiled. She looked blankly at me, turned away and walked past. I don’t know of anything she could have against me so I assume that is a common practice. What would have saying “Hi” cost her? Basically nothing. She wouldn’t have even had to slow her pace. Saying “Hi” doesn’t mean you have to be best friends nor it an invitation to marital infidelity. It is simply an acknowledgement of the person’s existence. Say “Hi.”
2. If someone emails you, particularly with a question, reply. You are probably busy. You probably have too many things to think about. Respond anyway. You don’t have to write paragraphs. Just send a line back acknowledging the email. If you don’t have time to fully respond, say that. Most people will understand. Again you are acknowledging the person’s existence and saying to them you care about them. Reply to emails. This applies to phone calls as well.
3. Learn people’s names. People really care about their names. If you take the trouble to learn someone’s name you say to that person that you care enough about them to take the trouble. Most people don’t initially, so knowing names will set you apart.
4. If you are established in a community, welcome new people in. This is a peculiarly Christian skill. Most groups don’t have to do this. If you are different or the group doesn’t like you, you are excluded. Not so with the church. We welcome different classes, races, and ages into the fold – even if we already have friends and don’t “need” them. When I moved to St. Louis I left my friends in Columbia. I knew one person, but he lives 30 minutes away. We specifically moved onto campus for the community. In the early weeks I tried to stay outside as much as I could to meet people, but few came outside. When people would come out they were typically in groups with those they knew already. I so wished the 2nd and 3rd year people would make an effort to reach out to me. But few did. Now I have met people and everything is ok. I’ve written this much, because we can get comfortable in our church settings and forget what it feels like to be an outsider. It’s terrible. Welcome new people in.