The Art of Conversation

During a recent interview I was asked “What do you see as the most important communication vehicle?” I did not have to hesitate to answer that face-to-face communication was clearly the most important. The interviewer sounded surprised and responded “Really?” I went on to explain that while technology certainly plays a big role in communicating today, there are so many critical conversations that take place between managers and employees that require some level of personal interaction.

Unlike the centuries-old tradition of coffeehouses, taverns and other meeting places where people could gather in a comfortable place for food, drink, reading, writing and conversation, people are now congregating on-line where information and advice is dispensed. What is lacking in this new meeting place is a real time exchange that enables people to connect with others in compelling ways.

Communication can be so fragile. How often is the message lost because the wrong words are used or the wrong non-verbal signals are sent? The barriers to communication often cause the receiver to misinterpret the meaning of the intended message.

Technology is a powerful influence in the way that we give and get information today. It is a great way to touch base with applicants, push news and information out to employees and other stakeholders about the organization. For example, organizations are using innovative, on-line tools to provide benefit information to their employees and employees’ families. Technology saves time and resources and is efficient. It can quickly and easily reach a great deal of people.

However, consider the social and organizational implications of over dependency on technology as a means of communication. Are we are losing the personal connection and social interaction that we gain when we engage in conversation? Even though we are connected, are we running the risk of becoming isolated? Is our dependency on technology destroying the art of communication? The trap that can ensnare this growing dependence on technology is the loss of tone, expression, and non-verbal signals to name a few. There is no opportunity to pick up on cues or connect words. There is no opportunity to paraphrase, clarify and summarize questions.

While technology is efficient, efficiency is not always effective. There are circumstances when a conversation must take place. A conversation is a two-way dialogue where information is given and received. Whether it’s praise for a job well done, candidate interviews, employee discipline or performance discussions (positive or negative), it is preferable to be in the same room and talk face-to-face. Recognizing the realities of today’s workplace where employee and manager don’t always work in the same building, the next best thing would be to have a phone conversation, or rely on tools such as Skype or FaceTime to have the conversation. The most important thing is to be “in the moment” with the other person and observe as much as possible the subtleties that accompany conversations.

Conversations and personal connections are critical to managing and developing employees. Please visit the Reports section of this website where we’ve provided additional reports on topics related to the art of conversation, including Giving Effective Feedback, Reframing a Situation, Encouraging Dialogue, and Listening Strategies. Practice the art of conversation so you can be an active participant and not a passive observer.

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