In this country we appear to have lost the ability to have a conversation, discussion or debate, without there being an argument. The art of conversation is being lost. We are living in a world where there are opposing views, and instead of listening; considering other people’s views, there is a tendency to either shout other people down or throw insults. It hasn’t been helped by our Prime Minister using these tactics when supposedly debating national issues rather than having a proper two way conversation. When we see this in government, we are going to be influenced by this – as parliament is a role model. Here is an example.
Not only do we see the behaviour in parliament, but individuals are influenced by Soap operas on TV where every discussion appears to be a shouting match if there are opposing views. And so often we encounter this in meetings; whether they be internal, external or public meetings, where individuals believe it is acceptable to shout the loudest or throw verbal abuse at someone with opposing views.
I am sure I am not the only person who has experienced this; remaining calm and considered within a discussion, only for the other person to ‘lose it’. Discussing the country’s political situation a few months ago, someone I knew suddenly started pointing her finger in my face because my logical, considered observation was not in agreement with hers. I had known this woman for over 20 years so her behaviour was especially surprising and hurtful. And my husband had to deal with an appalling situation within our community where a couple of people not only didn’t agree with his expert opinion on a specific problem, but shouted him down with personal comments. Totally unacceptable.
It appears that the behaviour online, of people hiding behind their keyboards and false names to hurl insults at strangers is now impacting conversations in real life. The ability to listen to other views appears to be no longer valued. And the cult of ‘This is my message’ without listening to others – or considering what an audience might wish to hear, is being lost. They are losing the art of conversation when they are communicating with others.
Perhaps it is that more people work in isolation; many people tell me that in the office, everyone has headphones on, listening to their own content rather than being in a two way conversation. The ability to communicate with others is therefore changed. Yet more people are wanting to do Public Speaking: Tedx or similar talks to share their message. Which is great of course, but any talk is two way in my opinion. And if you are isolated from your colleagues with headphones on, you are less likely to be able to develop your conversation skills: and my belief is that once you start speaking to other people, this is public speaking! And it is those very people that moan that meetings are a waste of time, but I suspect individuals have lost some of the skills in running and contributing to meetings: whether they are face to face or virtual. How can people develop the art of conversation if they are enclosed in their own world or bubble?
So what can we do to improve these skills? Here are some ideas I have.
- Manage meetings far more efficiently, with clear agendas, timings and ground rules such as not interrupting others when there is a discussion.
- Ban phones/laptops etc from meetings. You want everyone to learn how to be present during conversations; not just when they want to share their message.
- Include an away day or half day training for your staff focusing on conversations; you could have mini-debates; pretend hustings for elections; one minute pitches. ALL FOR FUN. Encourage people to actively listen.
- Part of our remit is to be role models for younger people: students, school children and also younger members of our team. If we are unable to listen and be present in conversations, preferring to look at our phones when we aren’t contributing to a discussion, how on earth can we hope to develop these skills in younger people.
- It is almost a knee jerk reaction to say “Schools need to do more”; many excellent teachers include discussions, whether they be with one other class member, groups and class discussions. But this work needs to be fully valued as STEM subjects which are all the rage.
- Value listening skills as much as spoken skills. Possibly a problem is that as a society we currently value those with ‘a message’ or who do public speaking (which is great) but we also need people to listen to the messages. Putting an equal value to actively listening as well as speaking is essential. The art of conversation should be an essential skill and valued as such.
Of course I have highlighted that for many people these skills are lacking and varied training is essential to ensure we don’t lose these skills. In a world where technology and AI is having an increasing impact, developing our uniquely human skills is even more essential. I have a range of courses available for teams and individuals: face to face and virtual. More information here.