There’s always plenty of commentary and discussion about technology’s impact on human interaction, particularly conversation.
Online, I see headlines about how someone or something has ‘started the conversation’ about a particular issue. Actually, in the realm of social media, it may have started with posts, comments, photos, videos, and all manner of things going viral. That’s great.
Some of this activity on social media contributes to positive change in our world. Sometimes it supports the illusion that because you’ve commented on, liked, or retweeted something that you’ve actually done something about it. (You haven’t.) And it’s not a conversation. It’s a game of “me, too” that allows participants chime in about a given subject with varying degrees of intelligence and relevance. Don’t mistake this for starting or contributing to a conversation.
In addition to corrupting the definition of conversation, technology also impacts people’s ability to actually speak with one another: if you spend all day in front of a computer and only communicate using technology, your ability to interact with other human beings in conversation may be unpolished, underdeveloped or completely absent. The risk is that you will text people who are sitting right next to you, email birthday wishes instead of picking up the phone, and not be able to express your emotions or thoughts competently when technology (or a smiley face) will not suffice.
Thus the need for conversation. Conversations can be generally defined as a group of two or more people sitting down with each other and exchanging experiences, ideas, information, and feelings. This is done by talking, asking questions, and listening to other people with whom you share the same physical space.
This forum for socializing and communicating requires a commitment of time and attention. It takes effort to do it well and a certain amount of integrity to do it when you don’t have an agenda (like networking with people who may be able to help your career or flirting with people whom you find attractive).
You simply have to be interested in what someone has to say, and hopefully have something interesting to say. The rewards are extremely gratifying: making new friends, deepening bonds with old ones, learning new things, cultivating new ideas and concepts, and creating great energy, to name just a few.
Here are some things that will help you master The Lost Art of Conversation:
Read. If you’re not consistently reading a substantial, challenging, enlightening, and engaging fiction or nonfiction book, you’re not fully living. Books broaden your horizons and build bridges between peoples and cultures. They provide a timeless thread of wisdom: something could have been written a thousand years ago and still have relevance today. Selfishly, it can help you, so read. More nobly, a more literate you can mean a better world, so read. The shortest distance between a stranger and new friend is a common interest, and books help define, color, and expand your interests. So read.
Listen. The short attention span and selfie mentality are just two prices we’re paying for speed-of-light global technology. Conversations, on the other hand, take time. They ebb and flow. They involve non-verbal communication, as well as words. You have to pay attention. So slow down. Put your phone away. Ask the person sitting across from you a question. Then, do something amazing: listen.
Note: listening is not simply waiting for your turn to talk. When you really listen, sometimes you find yourself learning one thing that leads you to ask about another thing. So, without being nosy, don’t be shy about digging deeper when you hear something interesting. You’ll discover hidden gems of insight and inspiration from new acquaintances and old friends alike. All you have to do is ask….and listen.
Laugh. Unpleasant things happen to all of us. 99% of the time, we can choose to either laugh about them or get upset about them. Whether it’s a split cup of coffee or a fender bender, we’ll be much happier and enjoy conversations much more if we laugh about whatever they are, especially if we’re the ones who’ve done something foolish.
Ironically, sharing our mistakes with another person and laughing about it conveys a very powerful message: we show a confidence and courage to admit we’re imperfect. We show an understanding that we don’t have control of everything. We do this without belittling ourselves and without beating ourselves up about our faults or shortcomings. We’re not seeking sympathy or fishing for compliments; we’re simply acknowledging our humanity. Can you think of anything more attractive than that? Can you think of anything that would make people more willing to share their feelings with you?
My friend Mahesh, with whom I collaborated on The Hindu Way to Wealth, said that he thinks he’s richer than most people because he laughs more than most people. That very well could be.
I simply look at the world around us, the things that happen, and how they happen. Then I think to myself, God must really have a sense of humor.
We should, too.