Let’s conversate (yes, it’s a real word). If Facebook is any indication of the state of conversation today, we are doomed. It seems nowadays most people are not interested in conversation. A debate? Oh yeah, but a conversation? Not so much.
What about you? How important would you say conversations are in your daily life? Do you feel conversations are events to be endured or events to be enjoyed? Are conversations primarily there to get what you want or find out what you need?
For most, the shocking reality is that we are very pragmatic with our conversations – we will engage as long as we believe it is useful. Once this is no longer true we will either find a new conversation or stop altogether. If you don’t believe me, check to see if you are currently deciding to see if this article is useful enough for you to continue.
I read once that Marc Zuckerburg of Facebook said at the F8 conference that more than 60 billion messages are sent every year through Facebook Messenger and the app What’sApp – 3 times more than text messages that year. Imagine the amounts of conversations that are happening! Or are they?
Look at the political reality we live in today. We might say we are in conversations about politics but are we? We often accuse politicians of having talking points and not speaking to the actual issues but I’m not sure we are often any different.
I have no scientific evidence for this but my hunch is 50% or more of the voting public decided who they were going to vote for in the recent presidential election before hearing much of anything from them. Before the plans of the candidates were revealed or any new information was presented, good or bad, people had already made up their mind and acted accordingly. After that, the time was not spent around having conversations but debates, not listening to other opinions but spinning perceived attacks. There was no real goal of learning, compromise, or unity but just converts to win and arguments to dismantle.
The Loss of Conversations
So, what am I trying to say? I believe we have become allergic to having real meaningful conversations. Our motives for conversations have become self-serving, transactional, pragmatic, and it is killing us…figuratively, of course. A culture that is self-serving is a culture that is self-starving. I truly believe this was the fuel for the presidential firestorm we experienced.
It is no surprise that study after study and article after article describe and even prescribe the deep need for community and conversation. Conversations teach us to listen, to belong, to be challenged, to hear others viewpoints and so on. This is unfortunately not always the case. We were taught that words have immense power and then like children in a mud puddle we jumped around to see what happened next.
I believe most people don’t even know they have a “conversation deficit.” I think most people believe they are good “conversators” (not a real word) but actually are not. So, in an effort to bring the theory out of the clouds and down to the road, here are some ideas to help you (and me) figure out if we are engaging in conversations or just drag-out debates.
We Listen To Each Other
Its simplicity may fool us but it is not to be ignored. Studies done by Florida State University and Michigan State University found that we tend to forget anywhere between one-half to one-third of the conversation within eight hours. If that’s true that means we need to be actively trying to listen much more than talking.
Here is a trick I have found to know if I am actually listening or if I am ready to debate. If while the person is talking I am thinking of my response, I am probably in a debate whether the other person knows it or not. It’s a not a courtroom, it’s a conversation.
For some of us that might be a nerve-wracking idea. We may feel anxious because we want to have a clear and well-thought out response. That is understandable but what if the premise is actually doing more harm then good?
Sherry Turkle during her TED talk Connected, but Alone? explains that this may actually be our problem. She explains that when we are unable to curate our thoughts but stumble through our conversations, we actually reveal who we are. While that may be scary it may be the exact reason you are where you are. The act of listening practices deference and demonstrates value to the listener. I am sure you have been in a conversation when you felt the other person did not care about what you had to say. We can all guess how that conversation went.
We Ask Questions Of Each Other
If you think of your last few conversations, how many questions did you ask? Or did you spend most of the time talking? Asking questions communicates care for the other person but actually, and maybe more importantly, positions you to hear an answer – something we have stopped doing.
Bruce Lee said, “A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.” I could not agree more. How much more can a good question accomplish? Never underestimate the power of a well-thought-out question Click & Tweet! . A good question has the power to break down barriers, build up relationships, strengthen convictions, and break new ground. I have watched master communicators work an entire room (in a positive sense) and do it just by asking good questions and speaking little.
Need some more proof? Listen to these, much smarter people than me, talk about its importance: 36 Quotes From Successful People About The Wisdom In Asking Questions
We Are Humble
Admit it – you don’t have all the answers but together we have much more. Have you ever met someone who seemed to know a lot but never made you feel that way? It’s a rare but beautiful thing. I remember in my theology and philosophy classes, as I studied and learned more, having a distinct feeling that I hardly scratched the surface of knowledge! Even as I got to know my professors, the experts in their fields and topics, they were easily the most humble in the room. Why? True wisdom and knowledge have a way of tempering even the wildest of egos. They were quite comfortable knowing that even they had a lot to learn.
This might be the most important idea of them all. We can listen and ask questions but if we are not doing it with humility we are no further than where we started. A debate presupposes that your position is right and theirs is wrong. A conversation, on the other hand, leaves open the belief that every moment opens up a possibility of a whole new understanding of the world we live in.
Next time you are talking with someone, listen more, ask more questions, and know you don’t have it all figured out. Practice these and you might just find yourself in a full-fledged conversation.
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