November 2017 This past summer, we released the book Real Talk: Creating Space for Hearts to Change by Dr. Mark C. Good. Dr. Good understands how conversation can transform, encourage, and heal. That’s not unusual for a therapist, particularly a board-certified diplomate in clinical social work who’s run a private practice for almost forty years. But you don’t have to be a counselor to participate in transformative conversation. That’s one reason Dr. Good wrote Real Talk: to help anyone interested to come alongside others and communicate in more meaningful ways. As Thanksgiving approaches in the United States, and Christmas approaches for us all, we have more and more opportunities to fellowship with relatives and friends—including some who are difficult to speak with because of their personalities or circumstances. So we at Deep River Books thought this was the perfect time to talk with Dr. Good about what he calls “real conversation” and how we can apply his concepts to our interactions with others. First, what is “real conversation”? Dr. Good introduces the topic in his book like this: “Space opens up…. We can be ourselves and breath. We discover that we are understanding ourselves better—and the other person as well. Conversation becomes real when our hearts become engaged and we know we will never be the same again.” A few key points that Dr. Good talks about are walking alongside people, uncovering heart pictures, and asking questions. All three of these shape how he talks with people, in both clinical and casual settings. Walk Alongside and Enjoy Even after over forty years of professional experience in engaging others in healing conversations, Dr. Good admits it’s not always easy. It requires a care for the other person, a mutual approach—“walking alongside”—and, perhaps most of all, an ability to enjoy them. “One of the things real talk is, is a conversation with someone I care about. If I don’t care about a person, it’s not going to work.” To demonstrate that care, Dr. Good establishes a mutual approach: “And so I want to walk alongside. I don’t want to walk ahead. When I walk ahead, I counsel, I parent, I lead. I don’t want to walk behind, because I disengage, I’m not listening.” When you walk alongside, he explains, you give them encouragement, because they feel attended to—listened to and cared for. This mutual approach provides opportunity for a real conversation that isn’t possible when you’re walking ahead or behind. I don’t want to walk ahead. When I walk ahead, I counsel, I parent, I lead. It’s also vital to enjoy the other person. But how can we enjoy even the most difficult people? “I enjoy them because I know they’re precious, worthy, broken, and competent,” Dr. Good explains. “You’re precious because you’re special. You’re worthy because you’re made in the image of God. You’re broken because we all do it wrong some of the time. And you’re competent in some areas. If I’m missing one of these four words, I’m not going to enjoy you.” He remembers one recent conversation, in which the other person kept talking without giving him space to contribute. “I had a hard time sustaining that kind of attention; I had a hard time enjoying her. So I had to back off, and once I remembered that this person is precious, I did just fine.” Uncover Heart Pictures Real conversation doesn’t just brush the surface—it involves listening to, seeking to understand, and perhaps even changing hearts. “When I listen to where someone is coming from,” Dr. Good says, “I listen to the pictures in their heart—how they view other people, God, and the world.” He describes this more throughly in his book’s fifth chapter, “Heart Pictures”: I know you personally when I know some of the things in your heart, which include thoughts, emotions, memories, and stirrings or yearnings. Your heart naturally combines these things into beliefs, desires, perspectives, dreams, and wants. We describe these metaphorically as heart pictures, because this is how you “picture” the way people, God, and our world work. Understanding some of your heart pictures enables me to appreciate how you put things together on the inside, which helps make sense of your behaviors on the outside. Colloquially, I get where you’re coming from. The first goal of understanding someone’s heart pictures is simply that: to “get where they’re coming from.” Sometimes, those heart pictures are inaccurate, and that can explain why they’re approaching a situation or person in an ineffective or hurtful way. But these aren’t surface-level misunderstandings that can be easily fixed. They run deeper than that—which is why God must be involved. When the pictures are clearly inaccurate, because they disagree with confirmed knowledge or with what Scripture says, something needs to change. But whether Dr. Good is in a clinical setting or a social one, he doesn’t try to change those heart pictures himself. “I believe God changes pictures,” he emphasizes. So what is the role of a conversation partner? Simply to be a part of the process—to help the other person cultivate and revise their heart pictures, so they can see things more accurately and find the next step they need to take. That involves asking questions. Ask Questions A key element of real talk is to ask questions: first, “explore” questions that invite the person to share what they’re going through, then, “discuss” questions that “create space for him or her to think and ponder.” These questions help uncover heart pictures and, often, paths to tranformation. Dr. Good presented one hypothetical conversation: “Suppose there was someone who was separated [from their spouse], and you’re in the room at Christmastime—or anytime.” The idea is to approach “to talk to the person a bit about their circumstances, not to lecture, not to fix them, but to check their picture, see how it’s accurate—or not. [So] I might ask how they’re doing.” How exactly to proceed depends on the person and circumstances, and Dr. Good emphasizes the importance of praying and seeking God’s leading. Then, “It might be fit to ask, ‘I know that you have just separated…. What is that like?’” Note, Dr. Good says, “It’s a flowing question, and questions are so much better than statements. I like to ask explore questions; that allows the person to think about how things are fitting together inside of them and allows them to talk about it.” Opportunities often come up in social settings to “walk alongside someone informally,” as in the example above. “When that happens, a person is delighted that a person took time to explore what they are going through. So that’s a gift we can give someone. And a whole lot can happen in two to three minutes.” It’s worth noting that those few minutes don’t need to include advice to be valuable. Simply asking questions—both in order to listen well and in order to create space for the other person to better understand their experience—is often impactful enough. Create Space for Change “The final goal of real talk is for someone to realize that he or she is part of God’s plan,” says Dr. Good. In the end, real talk matters because it can transform hearts and lives. Perhaps you won’t have a chance to see transformation in the lives of those you talk to this holiday season. But if you approach them prayerfully and seek to enjoy them, to understand their different perspectives, to walk alongside them rather than fix them or brush by them—you could participate in a truly valuable conversation. And who knows? Maybe you will be the one transformed. Dr. Good’s approach to real, healing conversation is more thoroughly explained in Real Talk: Creating Space for Hearts to Change. To learn more about his book and his background, be sure to check out his page here on our website.