The Art of Conversation

When Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress in September 2015, he used the word dialogue twelve times. The irony of his use of that word struck me – “I want to take this opportunity to dialogue…” – since he was delivering a speech to them – a one-way communication. Yet dialogue implies a two-way communication, a conversation. Was he implying that there was not enough conversation among the members of this leadership body or was it a subtle suggestion that more two-way communication is needed in the world today? We text, we tweet, we post – but we don’t talk!

We rely too much on electronic communication these days. We push information out via e-mail, text messaging, and social media. All of these media lack social interaction – body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Since written communication is composed and not spontaneous, there is no immediate feedback if the message is misinterpreted, produces an unexpected response, or is never received. E-mail can be interactive, but it’s time delayed and often frustrates the process of reaching a conclusion and completing the feedback loop.

A casual conversation among three friends resulted in one offering space at his company to the other two who wanted to hold a simple networking event. He made the referral and introductions to the appropriate individuals in his firm – all via e-mail. The introduction was acknowledged by his colleague, and she subsequently advised the two friends that there’d be more information. Imagine the two friends surprise upon receiving an e-mail six weeks later from yet another staff member describing the event planned for them. The simple meet-and-greet somehow morphed into a formal event involving a presentation. When they finally had a phone call with the colleague to whom they’d been introduced, the two friends discovered she was clueless about the original request. Their request and the event had been blown out of proportion. Several months and countless e-mails later, they all realized that if a phone conversation had taken place initially, the confusion and frustration they were all feeling would have been avoided.

While all generations in the workplace can be equally guilty of heavy reliance on e-communication, the millennials are particularly disadvantaged. Many of them never learned the art of conversation at home. They grew up watching their parents on phones and devices and never learned how to have face-to-face conversations. In today’s virtual workplaces, the challenge to interact in-person becomes greater.

Good conversation is important. It’s the free flow and exchange of information and ideas – where people openly and honestly express opinions, share feelings, and articulate theories willingly, even when ideas and theories are controversial or unpopular. People involved are aware of what’s happening and what’s being said. Good conversation uses the follow skills:

· Attending skills to convey acknowledgement and recognition and to establish ease.
· Encouraging skills to help elaborate on thoughts or feelings.
· Clarifying skills to reduce ambiguity and establish clarity.
· Reflecting skills to restate, in your own words, what the other person is saying.

Great dialogue leads to effective conversations. Effective conversations have balance, maintain confidence and self-esteem and build trust, integrity and constructive relationships. These are goals that all leaders should embrace. Greater dialogue (and less texting, tweeting and posting) moves everyone toward common, mutual interests.


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