Discovering the Lost Art of Communication




I recently read about a married couple who communicated via social media even though they sat in the same room at home. I found it as disturbing as it was funny. And in fact, a recent report states that 2/3 of British families say when they sit down together for a family meal, there are uninvited guests at the table almost every day.

On average, 11.4 million tech devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops are brought to the family table. And almost a quarter of families who bring tech to the table feel they are prevented from having proper conversations with each other at meal times, seriously impacting what should be quality time together.

Look around you, everybody has their face buried in some sort of device. This behavior has resulted in one country taking an unusual action for the safety of pedestrians. Pavement lights have been installed at a pedestrian crossing in a Netherlands town to help smartphone users to not be run over. The light strips are designed to catch the eye of people looking down at their device, and change color to match traffic signals.

Where have you gone, Joe Di Maggio?

Just as Paul Simon wrote with “heroes are disappearing”, it seems to me that technology may put us in too big of a hurry to really nurture important relationships, personal and professional.  For many conversations, mine included, the art of communicating has gone from sitting down together at the dinner table, or in a meeting, or call, or creating powerful words on a page, truly explaining, and truly listening to understand. This is often replaced by heads buried in digital devices, conversations being converted to short cryptic sentences, three or four letter acronyms and little symbols on my smartphone, and impossibly short windows of focus for each interaction.

The art of using powerful words and a strong voice, or well-written language is disappearing and diminishing to casual communication – even in the professional world. In fact, you now need a table to translate the abbreviations for the Top 50 Most Popular Text Terms in Business.

Dear… What’s Your Name Again?

My boss received an email which said, “Dear Alice,” and Alice isn’t his name. Someone was using an app, a form letter, a spreadsheet, or template that got out of sync. Electronic communication, whether the chosen form is text, email, chat, or instant messaging—including social media networks—surely impacts interpersonal relationships professionally and personally.

Our reliance on technology to improve communication only works if the technology is used correctly.

Making a Connection

Before we make that next call or have that next face to face meeting, let’s think about what words we can use to start a conversation which can generate a real connection. How can we become part of the world of our listener?

Let’s also consider what makes a good conversation – what language we could use to help our next conversation go better.

What makes a conversation a good one? Here are my top 5 tips.

  1. Natural – it’s a two way process of listening and speaking where two or more people feel comfortable talking and sharing with each other.
  2. Time bound – Finding time in the lives of busy people and respecting schedules is important to me. “Do you have time to speak with me now?” is one of my favorite questions, or, “Is now still a good time for us to meet?” And if the answer is “No,” then ask, “When would be a good time for us to speak?” If I’m looking to meet with them I ask “When do you have 15 minutes available in the next week to speak with me?”
  3. Two-way – Again, listening and speaking. Asking open-ended questions helps me expand on our conversation, “What would you like to see improved?” “Why is that important to you?” I then confirm that what I heard is what was said. “I understand that you’re frustrated with ______, is that correct”. And if I have misunderstood, I can make adjustments. This demonstrates that I am really listening and engaged in the conversation. What’s your favorite question?
  4. Action-oriented – I have an idea or agenda in mind for what will be accomplished during the conversation. Actively listening provides an opportunity to discover what is going on in their world so that we can discuss it further or act upon it.
  5. Positive outcome – Having a good conversation creates the beginning of a great relationship and has the potential to strengthen already existing ones, whether setting the next phone call or meeting, the result and next step are clear.

I’ll Get Back in Touch soon…

In a recent address, Apple CEO Tim Cook warned graduates at MIT, a pioneer in fields like computers and robots, about technology’s dehumanizing aspects and urged them to infuse its development with their own values. For me, that’s all about communication.

In my next blog we’ll look at how to plan an effective business conversation.

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