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Communication: Have we lost the art of conversation?

Have we lost the art of conversation

It’s been said if you aren’t moving forwards, you are in fact moving backwards. This way of thinking certainly has its merits, but as is often the case there are always exceptions to the rule. I would argue one of these exceptions relates to the way we communicate.

Of course technology has changed this dramatically. We are now hyper-connected, and because of this we can sometimes forget that regardless of the big data analysis that we can compute in real time, there is something about a personal connection that transcends it all. While some suggest the proliferation of social media has made us less social, I’m not sure that’s true. What I do think is we have become a little too reliant on it and in doing so have lost a very important skill.

I recently attended an event where mobile phones were checked in at the door. At first it was an affronting concept — especially when I was walking into a room of people, most of whom I did not know. My first thought was that I won’t be able to fill any uncomfortable pauses in conversation by flicking through my emails. That might sound silly, but I think if we’re being honest we all do that from time to time. However, without my phone at this event — I found myself completely unshackled. We were all in the same boat and it made the experience completely different — one where you could peel back the layers of people and really take in their stories. It makes you wonder how often we don’t move beyond the surface of our interactions because technically we don’t have to. And… what a loss that is.

The problem with being so connected — we’re not connecting

We are now so connected and learning at unprecedented rates, we’ve lost the capability to converse like we once did. And this has an impact on our relationships. In this void there is too much room for ambiguity. It increases anxiety, misinterpretation, and reduces productivity.

I am sure that when newspaper editor Tess Flanders first said “use a picture, it says a thousand words” she couldn’t have conceived that might be an emoticon.

We have more words and use them less

Why should you care? Like a master artist’s brush stroke, being articulate has power. Without it we are less effective and less bold. We don’t ask questions that give us the answers we want. We can’t relax people into a relationship where they feel safe to share their own thoughts. It limits our ability to negotiate, to say what needs to be said, and be comfortable with the silence that allows new information to come out.

Finally, without practice and while we live behind the veil of technology, people just don’t think as well on their feet, not to mention read body language. Surely we should be aiming for more.

What makes good conversation?

I know this is a bit reductionist but I think it comes down to three things:

  1. It builds: There is momentum. Like a weave, it knits together.
  2. It explores: It asks you to consider something differently. You ask questions and give answers with your words and your body.
  3. It moves: You feel something and it’s a story if repeated would intrigue others.

3 reasons why you need to keep your phone in your pocket, or off the table

1. Client management

I’ve talked about all the things you lose, but one thing you gain, particularly helpful with things like client management, is trust. If you don’t know how to have a good conversation, you can’t establish confidence. This is foundational.

2. Team management

When in a team, as a co-worker or leader, there will be many moments that choosing your words carefully will make or break the status quo. This means giving your full attention, because without it you won’t know where the boundaries are.

3. Community management

Conversations are important online too. Don’t hear me saying they’re not. It’s just what information will be shared that’s publicly visible will often be vastly different to consultation in private. Good conversation is sensitive to a variety of perspectives. You can’t address a community as if there is but one lens, regardless of the sophistication of your social listening tools.

So here’s my challenge — do you think you can make better conversation? I’d love to hear how you go next time you have a conversation, with your phone off the hook.

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