Do You Remember how to have a Meaningful Conversation?

Do You Remember how to have a Meaningful Conversation?

We move at the speed of communication light, no?  Or at least we seem to.  And so much of that these days includes the “always connected” syndrome on social media with our smart devices.Do You Remember how to have a Meaningful Conversation?

Don’t you sometimes feel you’re always up’n internet going?  I know at times I do.

Studies are now coming out about the pitfalls of this—everything from shortened attention spans to isolation and depression to text neck from constantly being bent over.

But a bigger demon in this den is slowing down enough to have a deep conversation.  You know the kind—where you actually take the time to sit down and truly communicate with another. 

Imagine what it would be like 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago, when the majority of your communication was face to face—without a smart device in your hand.  You know—where your attention was on the actual person you were speaking with.

How often have you sent an email, text, etc., only to find the person on the receiving end took your message all wrong?  This happens to us all—even us writer folks, who are supposed to be good with words on the page!

Annoying, isn’t it?  But why does this happen?

It’s pretty simple, really.  Through technological communication (including the kind where you’re in the physical presence of one person while texting with another), we lose the nuances of human interaction.

I don’t much care about the debate about the famous studies by Albert Mehrabian about percentage breakdowns in the importance of nonverbal communication vs verbal, nor the debunking of those.

Chiefly because although human interaction can be studied, quantifying it leaves room for far too much error.  Communication just can’t really be broken down into a numbers’ game.

But intuitively, we know this pretty well—if somebody’s playing on her smart phone when you’re trying to have a discussion, pretty much all the communication gets lost.

Because after all, meaningful conversations include not just words, but expressions, body language, whether the person’s gestures and words and all of the above match what he says. 

Isn’t it interesting when someone smiles with his lips but that smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes . . .

Work with animals will show you the truth of this better than anything I know.  I do a lot with my dogs.  I know—not a news flash!  And I once trained and showed horses as well.

Boy, do you ever glean a lot doing that.

And one of the most enlightening things I learned so long ago is that these animals que off your body language most of all.  Very little while working with them is about words.

We think we’re teaching our dogs to do things based on verbal commands.  But that’s a tiny drop in the water trough.  Dogs key off our bodies.  Off our signals to them—intended or not.  And then they learn to put the words with the physical prompts.

Okay, so of course, people obviously aren’t dogs.  But can’t you tell when someone’s not really listening to you?  Eyes averted.  Talking about something quite off-topic from what you were just saying.  Body turned just slightly away.

Because the other ingredient for having a conversation that matters is being invested in what the other person is trying to communicate.  Which comes down to asking meaningful questions.

The kind of questions to make sure you understand what she is saying in the first place, and then go another step further.

“Oh, so you think your mother doesn’t respect your boyfriend?  Can you give me an example of that? Could she have meant that as something else? Maybe she didn’t know how to express what she felt.”

We all know the benefits of active listening, no?  And doesn’t that just make the communication so much richer?

People want to be heard. To be understood. It’s basic to the core of being human.

You know that, right?  How often have you really listened to someone, truly heard what she was saying, and she expresses how much better she then feels?

So often—with women, especially—we don’t want something fixed through a conversation. We want to talk it out with someone who really listens to us.  Hears our plight.  Shows some empathy.

And I know of no better way to express empathy than to truly care enough to listen to what’s on another’s mind.  

Human connection is often nebulous.  I blame the English language about half the time!  It’s such a rudimentary way of communicating.

True connection takes a dissection when conversing, of what the other person actually thinks, feels, and means.  Different words mean different things to people.

I’m still a lover of porches and swings, of sitting outside with a dear friend and just talking—slowly, at length, no timetable.  No smart phones.  I just had the most fabulous few weeks of doing so, with one close friend and another I just made.

Ah, heaven.

And funny thing—the more I listen, the more it enriches me.

As Henry David Thoreau said, “It takes two to speak the truth—one to speak and another to hear.” 

How do you have meaningful conversations in this day of hyper-connection?

This Post Has 42 Comments

  1. Susan,
    OH boy, I’ve written about this as well. I’m not a fan of phones at all, especially texting, and the more a person uses them the less their communicative abilities work.
    Back porch talking, now that’s the ticket.


    1. I know you love back porches and talking too, Randy! Heaven, no?

  2. It is good to look back and see what you once had. Only way to get things back to where you want them to be.

  3. My cousin and I have agreed to communicate over the phone is more important so we decided to talk every week or so for about 20 minutes. We agreed to talk about deeper stuff not what’s on the Internet or TV or even what the kids are doing. It allows us to be a sounding board for one another. It works for us since we don’t see each other often.

    1. I love that, Sabrina. And love that you plan it! Otherwise so much time can go by . . .

  4. Don’t get me started on the expectation of always being connected by technology! Although I’m a marketing professional, I take many breaks from social media so that I can keep my passion for what I do. Unfortunately, technology is one of those things that has made us connect with many more people yet somehow become more disconnected than ever. I still talk to people on the phone and see others in person. When I’m alone at home it doesn’t matter how many people email or connect via social media–I need more personal forms of communication. I feel as if animals, especially dogs, understand what’s important far better than humans do! 😉

    1. I love hearing that from a marketing professional, Meghan! That you take social-media breaks somehow makes me feel better 🙂

  5. I’m not a great texter and my siblings always say “you would think being a blogger you could text well”. I prefer to pick up the phone and call. I like to hear the tone in the voice and know how people are coming across. That can’t happen through text and email.

    At dinner every night our whole family is “unplugged”. It’s the one time we can sit together and chat.

    1. Oh, do I ever love that, Joie! Especially the dinner time being unplugged. And I feel the same–although I do text, I’d so much rather actually speak to a real-live human 🙂

  6. An advantage of being past ‘that certain age’ is that, although my friends all have cell phones, they prefer to meet for lunch to talk. I, on the other hand, have less leisure time than they & decline and I use the phone for visits. Neither are as special as a conversation on a porch swing.
    I know I’m a good conversationalist based on my professional training, my own life & the fact that I find people fascinating. And yet I am sometimes perplexed by a comment made and the signal to leave it alone. But that is what makes life so interesting.

    1. One of the greatest pleasures of my life is meeting friends for lunch! Ah, the uninterrupted visiting time–just heaven! But like you, often I make do with phone visits, which can last hours.
      Your fascination with people truly comes through, Roz! You always hone in on the gist of things 🙂

  7. This is a topic very near and dear to my heart, Susan. And I’ve written about it in several pieces featuring my mother, as I feel that generation had a huge advantage over us in how they communicated with each other. I have a great fear that the younger generations will not have the experience of learning to socialize and to see and hear others in person to person conversation. I am all about two-part questions and asking an initial question that leads to a deeper and more meaningful conversation. I spend time with friends, in person all the time. It is so key to our humanity to have close and personal interactions. Last Thursday I had a rather rousing conversation with my friend and co-writer of the golf book we are working on. His perspective of what is going on in the U.S. in the presidential primaries was quite opposed to mine. He thanked me as we parted for the rousing conversation. My hope is that we do not lose what makes us humans who we are. The ability to have meaningful and engaged conversations. Thanks for sharing this, as the more people who do, hopefully the more people will “get” the importance of real person-to-person conversation.

    1. I just LOVE your posts about your mother, Beverley–she’s such an inspiration to me. And her ability to communicate came down so beautifully to you!
      You know they’re doing studies on the stunted social skills of the social-media generation. It’s not pretty. So hopefully that will catch some attention!
      And don’t you love those rousing conversations! They get lost in the world of soundbites from texts and social media as well–people just go away. Not easy to do when you’re having an actual conversation! I’m sure your co-author did thank you. Such interactions stimulate us in so many ways!

  8. I love technology (well, because I work from home on my computer and I find it fascinating), but it has it’s place. When it comes to family time and communicating in person, it’s so important to put those devices down and just be present in the moment.

    1. Perfect balance, Rada! We all have to befriend technology these days, but you said it perfectly–it has it’s place. And being present with those around us is so key!

  9. I feel so insulted when I’m confiding in someone and they stop listening to read an incoming text.For so many years we managed without smartphones and having to know immediately what someone wanted to say. My phone is always on silent (it drives my family crazy) and I don’t look at it if I’m doing something else – especially having a real life, meaningful conversation.

    1. It is insulting, isn’t it, Tamuria. I do the same thing you do–put my phone away when in person with folks. It’s funny, just Tuesday I spent the entire day at my co-breeder’s, spelling her so that she could get some rest after a litter of pups we just had. For the time she was awake and on the couch (as I was in the box with babies!), my phone was in my purse. It kept dinging with texts. Finally Jody said, “Someone’s really trying to get you.” My response: “They can wait until you go take a nap!” I cherished the time with her, and she felt appreciated. Just proves your theory!

  10. I love sitting on the porch swing and having conversations. That is usually with my mom though. My friends & I usually sit at written to shoot the crap. I have a couple of friends that can not have a conversation. It’s so frustrating. This is a great read!

    1. Don’t you just love the porch swing and talking, Leslie! It feeds me. And interesting that you have friends who already can’t have a conversation. Tell them to come sit on the porch!

  11. I’m very old-fashioned on this subject. I turn off my phone when I’m in-person with someone else. I love one-on-one conversations looking at each other. I’ve been told very often that I’m a good listener and I do pride myself on that. I love to hear what somebody thinks and I love to show my appreciation of the other person’s ideas. Funny though, just yesterday I had a wonderful phone chat of about half an hour with someone I live about a mile from and we both agreed that it was great fun. Our husbands were playing golf and we had no interruptions.

    1. I can vouch that you’re a good listener, Beth–even when messaging. You listen, ask questions, and are engaged. I think that’s a carryover from being a good listener in person–or on the phone!

  12. There is times I get frustrated with my husband because I am trying to talk to him and he is messing on his phone and not really listening.

    1. Show him the graphic, Jacquie. Don’t you think the woman’s face says it all?

  13. Such a delightful read with much wisdom and truth! And part of that truth is that we collectively brought ourselves to this space of technology. Be careful what you wish for …or better yet, learn how to elegantly adapt to our new places of connecting. Just because we have technology doesn’t mean we want less meaningful connection, does it? I think not. Love your post, Susan, and helping us to see our better ways of being.

    1. Teresa! I just love this: “or better yet, learn how to elegantly adapt to our new places of connecting.” Now, that’s the ticket, no? We can still hold true to our values and what we find important, no matter the circumstances. Just love that!

  14. Oh Susan…We are surrounded with experiences, people and gadgets that encourage a short attention span. Ringing cell phones. Gaming. Chiming InBoxes. With a constant flood of instantly (yet shallowly) gratifying “fixes” how are we ever going to learn to be content with any type of purposeful activity such as meaningful conversation? One of my pet peeves also :0

    1. We are surrounded, Rachel! And you hit on the biggest beast here, I believe–the instantly gratifying fixes. Which are, as you say, shallow. For me, I so, so love real communication, and by making that a priority, it at least balances the 144 characters 🙂

  15. Susan – whenever I’m not on call at the hospital (sigh!) and I’m having a conversation with someone, I shut off my cell in front of them and say, “Here, I want to shut this off so I can have a decent conversation for once.” It’s my way of 1) doing exactly that, and 2) showing them that I think they deserve my attention. Win-win!

    1. What a perfect way of setting boundaries, Joan! You set them firmly, while at the same time making the other person feel important and appreciated. Great prescription!

  16. So far I have resisted having “a phone smarter than I am”. lol. People are amazed and not always happy that they can’t reach me instantly. I’m not sure how long I can hold out since it’s the standard of communication these days – but I find that the more that people rely on their little devices the more they seem to misunderstand what is actually going on. Great blog, Susan.

    1. A phone smarter than I am! I love that, Cathy! But you hit the issue in a nutshell: “the more that people rely on their little devices the more they seem to misunderstand what is actually going on.” You hold out, girl!

  17. Wonderful post and something that we all need to do really REALLY listen to each other!! With all of the technology and the smart phones and computers it is a wonder we can get any kind of REAL conversation in lol

    I am with you Susan, we need to have MORE meaningful conversations with those we care about MORE often. Listen more 🙂 Love this, thank you for sharing!

    1. Isn’t that the truth, Joan! With all these smart gadgets, it really is a wonder we get any sort of real conversation in!

  18. Yes, I remember, and I love the front (or back) porch conversations, too. Even those that take place in the dark when you can’t see the other person’s face and you’re both looking out. You can sense the energy. Just great. Those occasions happen only a few times a year, it seems. Better than never, though! Thanks for the precious reminder, Susan.

    1. I love that, Jen–you can sense the energy. Yes! I can’t get enough of that either 🙂

  19. Among the things I miss most about friends who have passed on is the great conversations. There was so much to share. We would have never been able to tweet. I’m more likely to pick up the phone and call than to send an email. Conversations just give you so much more information in the shortest amount of time. So, if anyone needs good conversation time, email me and I’ll send you my phone number.

    1. I love that, Joyce! Be careful–I may be emailing! 🙂

  20. Great points about listening. One of the things that drives me bonkers is the person who rushes in to “fix” something when I didn’t want anything fixed at all. I was just looking for a “there, there, everything will be all right” kind of interaction. So many of the people dearest to me live far away, so I have to make due with phone convos to have a “real” conversation. I do, however, make an effort to get out more locally and talk to live people. ‘=_

    1. That’s so true of many (if not most) women, Jackie–we mainly just want to talk things out, aloud, not to have another “fix” the problem. Men tend to want to fix it. Makes me nuts too!

  21. Ah yes… the misunderstood email or text… I try to make sure it is super clear when I am writing so it doesn’t come across rude when I am trying to make a point… which is also why I love humor, emoji’s and what not.. it helps to add emotion when it can’t be done in writing.

    1. It does take diligence, doesn’t it, Kristen. I love humor and emojis to help get the emotions across too!

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