Art of Conversation Threatened

Fine does not always mean fine, so says my friend.

Sitting in her office earlier this week we were talking about how our kids equate texting each other the same as speaking verbally. Today, many people use the two terms interchangeably without a thought.

“There is a difference,” she said. “Fine is not always fine. I want to hear if your fine means fine or maybe something a bit less. All that important nuance gets lost in the translation of texting.”

Her words reminded me of a conversation that same day where my daughter was using the term, texting, interchangeably with verbally communicating. She’d said she’d been speaking with a friend – someone currently halfway around the globe.

“You guys actually spoke?” I asked.

She acted as if I missed a critical class in basic communications along the way.

“No, no one talks on the phone anymore. We text each other.”

Fine, I thought to myself.

The art of conversation is simply that, an art form. Like learning to dance, carrying on a good conversation is an acquired experience. Without repeated practice, we are never sufficiently challenged to improve and sharpen our skills. And without putting in the time and effort, we tend to speak with two left feet.

Quality conversation is all about the other person, listening, responding, moving the conversation forward in sync with the other person leading whenever possible. And, like dancing, being nimble on your figurative feet, is key to being able to both see and feel the emotional tells from the other person. You are always scrutinizing the words selected (why that particular word?), reading for emotional body language (eyes darting or looking away?), and being aware of the unspoken emotions (sense any changes in the speaker’s cadence?).

Texting, however, is a cold and lifeless form of communication absent of genuine emotion. Emoticons are not a substitute for reading the small pause in someone’s reply to an innocent question of how they are. Empathy simply does not translate through a keyboard. And many times, this lack of multi-dimensional communication leaves a receiver misinterpreting the sender’s message.

Spoken communication is a critical component of society. Without developing the important skills to accurately read and correctly react to a live conversation, one leaves room for misinterpretation. And misinterpretation leads to hurt feelings or inappropriate replies. Verbal stepping on toes, so to say.

So where do we go from here? What does this new social acceptability of non-verbal communication mean for society? Does the loss of the art form of highly developed conversational skills potentially point to a future of more confusion and more miscommunication?

The old phrase ‘lost in translation’ is appropriate here. Translating from one language to another requires a measure of understanding the receiver may not fully understand the message as intended.

Which brings me back to my friend’s point about the important difference between texting and verbally communicating. She told me she is fine – and I believer her. All the other signs told me so.




One thought on “Art of Conversation Threatened

  1. We’ve come full circle; in Victorian days, written communication was a daily (even hourly) event. Love notes penned and sent with messenger boys, social engagements proposed and accepted through the hands of the butler; business dealings in large envelopes carted from office to office.

    True, the handwritten note carries more emotion and a sense of personal investment, but here we are – in the technology age, imitating our ancestors of a century ago.

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