Dostoyevsky once said “Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” My question today is “Are we losing the ability to talk with each other?”
Does any of this sound familiar?
You are home from work sitting with your partner, having just finished eating or putting the kids to bed and you get out your laptop, your partner gets out his/her Iphone and you both spend the evening Tweeting, Facebooking, playing Candy Crush or surfing the internet.
You are sitting at your desk at work and you email your colleague who is sitting 5 metres away asking them if they have finished the report you have been waiting on.
You decide not to pop into town to pick up some shopping or go to the bank or post office and do it all online instead.
At Speak The Speech we run courses like “Building Trust” where we coach people on the art of conversation; how to be interested before being interesting by asking questions that seek to find common ground and quickly build trust; how to listen in order to genuinely understand; how to communicate in an authentic and engaging manner.
Oh, For A Quiet Life
We live in a new world of social media. Tweeting, Facebooking, Snapchatting, Instagramming, emailing and texting are “ings” that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Over that time we have seen dramatic changes in the way we communicate with each other. We rarely do it face to face anymore. It is so much easier, so much faster to email or text.
Don’t get me wrong I am as guilty as I am sure many of you are. My thumbs are without doubt twice the size that they were 10 years ago. As I type this on holiday in France, my kids are quietly playing with their Ipads whilst outside the sun shines and the waves crash against the beach that is 50 metres from our apartment. Oh the guilt! What a terrible parent I am. But it keeps them quiet doesn’t it?!!
Of course, in many ways this new technology is great and not just as a way of keeping the kids from screaming at each other. My parents live in France and we can now connect with them whenever we want - the children think “Skyping” them is the most normal thing in the world. I doubt they could imagine a world without it. Text and Skype have helped us keep in regular contact as opposed to “ye good olde days” when we would probably have made one expensive, long-distance phone call a week or sent a pigeon.
But isn’t there a danger that we use electronic communication too much now? With friends or family that we would previously have called or met for lunch? It is so much easier now to send them a message or tweet.
I remember how my dear old Grandad used to take me on his morning errands from time to time. To the bank, to the post office, to the local shop. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. He would engage with people and they would engage back. Relationships and friendships were built and they seemed more genuine. It was the way things were. It was real conversation not just the “oh look what I had for breakfast” type that we so often see on Facebook nowadays. Do you know anyone in your local shops now?
So don’t we miss that flow of conversation; that banter, those changes of tone that a good old chat can bring? And how well can we actually communicate via text or email? Real conversation is infinitely subtler and more complex than electronic communication. It doesn't just involve talking; it has a crucial and often woefully overlooked counterpart: listening. The best communicators are always the best listeners; those who put other people first, who are prepared to suspend their own agenda so that they can properly listen to the other person and be genuinely curious.
And worryingly, doesn’t a lack of intimacy actually make us colder and more detached from one another? None of us like confrontation and emailing or texting has helped us avoid it. It is so much safer, more anonymous and less stressful to use that cold little weapon in our hands than to speak to someone face to face. But, because of these easy ways out, have we forgotten what it is like to confront our issues?
Risks For The Future
And what about the consequences for the next generations? If we lose the art of conversation, isn’t there a risk that we may become inflexible in our thinking, self-righteous perhaps? If nobody challenges us, then we end up only agreeing with ourselves.
And beware, managers amongst you, sending lots of emails to your staff is not communicating effectively! In my experience, bosses often use email to communicate because it is quick and efficient, and they can send the same information to a lot of people at the same time. But email can be frequently misinterpreted or just too plain complicated to fully understand. What so many managers do not realize is that truly effective communication must go beyond the written word.
There is also the small matter of building better relationships. Email encourages us to be rude. We can fire off an abrupt one liner or worse still completely ignore someone. How rude - no? Can you imagine that happening in a face to face to conversation? Just completely ignoring the other person? Of course not. With email it is somehow acceptable. We are forced to think “oh well they must be really busy.”
Love Thy Neighbour
Last year Boo and I were out in the Middle East coaching a local bank. Our group consisted of six of the most senior executives in the organisation, we had the head of finance, the head of marketing, the head of private equities, you name it they were head of it. The lady that had arranged the training warned Boo and I beforehand “you might have a tough day.... these guys hate each other.” “Great” – we thought.
We decided to treat it just like any other training and, after an admittedly frosty start, the day started to get better and better. By lunchtime there was a buoyant and positive mood in the training room. We all sat down for our lunch together and about half way through I got a little cheeky: “I think it’s great you guys get on so well” I said. There was a moments silence and then one of them started laughing and said “Jon. You wouldn’t believe. We normally all HATE each other.” At which point they ALL started laughing. “REALLY!?” I said “You would NEVER have guessed it.” “Well it’s true” said another. “All we do all day is send each other nasty emails. We never actually talk!”
At the end of the training they all left the room with big smiles and handshakes and slapped backs. Boo and I packed away all our stuff and then went down the escalator to exit the hotel. There in the foyer bar were the six of them – sharing an after-course drink. We left the newly found love-birds to themselves. Conversation, talking, listening, could mean the difference between harmony in the office and conflict; good client relationships or bad, keeping customers or losing them.
……the next time you have finished dinner and the kids are asleep, don’t just turn on your computer and start surfing the internet. TALK to your partner, engage with them, listen. Don’t just ping off an email or instant message to the person who sits next to you. Turn to him or her and speak to them. Pick up the phone, call your brother or sister or cousin or friend and have a conversation! TALK! LISTEN!
Let me leave you with the ominous words of Einstein “I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots”.