On finally surfacing from an intense few months of work, I have at last transitioned from “doing” to “being” mode, and it occurred to me how little time is afforded to real, meaningful conversations, instead filling our lives with goals, tasks and general busyness.
I feel nostalgic for times past where the long days of summer involved hours of deep conversation, fuelled by the freedom of an unknowing, inquisitive mind. Of course, in these moments of recollection, I may have donned my rose-tinted spectacles, but it seems to me that real conversation is an increasingly lost art. We live in a world where communication is supposedly easier than ever. We are available 24/7 and expect the same of others, we share the details of our lives via multiple social media platforms and often pride ourselves in how many ‘contacts’ or ‘friends’ we have. In fact, we seem to be constantly communicating and yet have less conversation.
It is a paradox that technology connects us instantly to multiple worlds whilst simultaneously killing real conversation. The sight of screen-fixed faces leaves me with a sense that technology somehow results in an experience of everyone being lonely together.
The quality of relationships seems to be deteriorating, both within our professional and personal lives. Organisational demands necessitate a goal focused mindset, with the juggling of multiple priorities and expectations at any one time. Budgets are stretched and organisational structures lean. The thought of taking time to have a conversation that doesn’t involve reviewing the latest sales targets or budget revisions but instead is a deeper, more personal exchange seems something aspirational, even a little fantastical.
The price we pay for remaining in this “doing” mode for most, if not all, of the time is the squeezing out of more meaningful connections, resulting in transactional relationships at home and at work. We have lost the art of how to really converse.
Professor Turkle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology describes this as psychological lockjaw. Whilst many organisations speak passionately about employee wellbeing and invest heavily in enhancing communication skills, with time being such a scarce resource, it feels increasingly difficult to experience a real meeting of minds. A true conversation is more than just the words, it is what goes on between the participants, in the eyes and the body. Conversation is deeply personal, it requires a vulnerability that may be hard to show and is mutual, listening to others and being heard.
As a coach and psychotherapist, I am often struck by the sense of loneliness and isolation that people experience in their lives. Despite family and friends and busy professional lives, this real, deep connection is so often absent. Social connection is a fundamental part of the human operating system, our brains and bodies are designed to function optimally in contact with others, not in isolation. Our well-being suffers when our need for social connection is not met and before long we can find ourselves dwelling in a defensive state, perceiving the world to be threatening. From this position, it is a tall order to retain the open and curious mind that enables a deeper connection.
As Cacioppo and Patrick found in their research, when we feel connected we are less stressed, our physical systems work more effectively and we send positive social signals which in turn enables us to receive more positive social signals, ultimately enabling a greater sense of well-being. It seems the increasing lack of real conversation results in a missed opportunity for greater discovery about ourselves and about others and leaves a world of creativity untapped.
So, I for one am looking forward to rekindling the halcyon days of summer, filled with social connection and long, deep, honest conversations. Whilst the demands of your daily life may make it seem like just another thing to add to your ‘to-do’ list, I invite you to seize any opportunity over this holiday period to give a little of yourself and welcome the same from others.
If you would like to explore how you may develop the art of conversation, either for you personally or for your business, please get in touch, we would love to hear from you.
~Author: Jill Threadgold