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Guest Commentary: Does Anyone Remember The Art Of Conversation?

“It appears that we are expecting more from technology and less from each other, which should concern all of us,” writes Dr. John Passante in his latest guest commentary.

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John Passante is a broad-based senior executive with over 30 years of extensive organizational development and senior human resource experience with progressive corporations involved in multiple locations, both domestic and international.

I am of the school that says the art of the conversation is the key to a meaningful and successful life. It is how we meet people and build relationships with loved ones, friends, employers, employees and business partners. Conversations help us learn about others and learn about ourselves.

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Despite this, I observe the lack of conversations in restaurants, coffee shops and corporate meetings. Technology touches our every waking moment, and can detract from the art of conversation. To me, a lively and healthy conversation is like oxygen – necessary to life. It allows us to be truly connected to others.

Look around. What will you see is people with their heads down, looking at tiny screens. Clearly human interaction has declined. Tech addiction has become real issue. Conversations give us the gift of debate, dialogue, thesis and the ability to build understanding. It also encourages empathy, compromise, collaboration and care.

The ability to verbalize and articulate our points of view, opinions, feelings, ideas and concerns are the foundation of meaningfulness. Conversation can motivate us, heal us, anger us and console us. Conversations enrich our lives and open the door to true human connection. The question is: Do we want to live an “i-life” or a real life? Conversations involve really caring and getting to know people. Remember, the smart phone has no heart, soul or pulse.

Remember the joy of spontaneous, stimulating, challenging and emotional conversations? Indeed, we were truly connected. Conversations make us human; they involve eye contact, presence and learning about others. It is time to talk, to truly connect, to be curious about other people and to stay in the moment. We find our true voice by engaging in collaborative conversations that share our story and build our narrative. Self-expression is the guidepost to connect and to grow.

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Make no mistake, we are responsible for our relationships, and all relationships – both business and personal – take nurturing and work. Thus, we need to take time to engage in conversations.

Talking to a customer and discussing real issues cannot, in my opinion, be replaced by an email or a text. Meaningful conversations give us insight, energy and purpose. They can be motivational. Our relationships are what we look at when we evaluate our lives. Can a beneficial conversation with a customer, employee or friend be replaced by an email or tweet?

It appears that we are expecting more from technology and less from each other, which should concern all of us. The art of the conversation involves the ability to interview effectively, to make a sales presentation, to mentor an employee and share your thoughts and feelings with a loved one and to develop new relationships. The mere presence of a smartphone has a chilling effect on the quality of a face-to-face conversation. It steals time and attention from the real people in our lives. Most of us feel compelled to check our phones in the urge to stay connected, which tends to take away from staying in the present and paying attention to the people you are with.

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Can technology rob us from the gift of speech? Talking to others indeed breaks the ice, and stimulates sharing, wit and true human connection. Face-to-face contact is being replaced by screen-to-screen and smartphone-to-smartphone. By looking someone in the eye you can read their facial expression, hear their tone of voice and read their mood. Checking messages and texts sends a message that someone is more important than the person you are with. By our actions, we devalue our business associates, friends and family.

The fact is I am in awe of technology and what is coming next. Yet, when I observe people looking at their smartphones during church services, I get concerned. Is this behavior the sign of an addiction?

A suggestion, if I may: establish no smart phone zones in your company. Perhaps all conference rooms are a good place to start. Maybe have smart phones off limits in your family room as well. Step back and hopefully watch the magic and joy of conversations!

A sense of belonging comes with the ability to interact, talk, listen, learn and socialize, which builds trust and a positive culture. Live conversations bring meaning to our lives and stimulate us, foster cultural norms and instill a sensibility throughout the entire organization. Conversations connect people intellectually and emotionally and result in better decisions and better listening skills.

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The essence of a conversation is when people talk with each other and not at each other. The benefit of face-to-face conversation is that it is an equal opportunity engagement – it enables and encourages each participant to take ownership of the dialogue. Enjoy the give and take, the sharing of thoughts, ideas and concerns. Let us be cognizant of the differences when communicating via email, texts and conferences calls. Each offers many benefits but should be treated differently or seen as a replacement for old face-to-face conversation.

Keep the spoken word alive.

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