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Why Don’t We Have a Conversation?

It was a delightful weekend with friends in Wisconsin. Their home is magnificent, the Madison area is beautiful, the conversation was fascinating, and there was lots of it.

The conversation made me think of you. It also made me see something about myself that was a little unsettling.

You know I’ve long advocated for better communication in business and in life. I’m a big proponent of talking. And of course, listening.

And yet, over the weekend, I noticed Nancy made a dinner reservation by … calling the supper club. I would have used Open Table. We wondered about the hours to tour the amazing Epic Headquarters. I was finding the info online while she was … talking to them on the phone.

We compared notes on coffee shops. Nancy goes into some cute little local spot and sits down to sip a latte, chatting with the barista as she does. I usually just hit the Starbucks drive-through.

She goes out of her way to create opportunities for conversation. I seem to have fallen out of that habit.

I wrote years ago about the snafus we can create when we default to texts and emails instead of actually talking with people. Nothing has changed for the better since then.

Why don’t we have a conversation?

No matter what business you’re in, I’m betting this sounds familiar. Email’s long since become the default for interacting with customers and colleagues and everyone else.

At big companies, people notoriously send Slack messages to individuals sitting right down the hall or across the room.

Younger people gravitate toward texting instead; many millennials never answer their phone, they don’t even listen to voicemails. Sure, you can call them—you’ll get a text in return. If you’re lucky.

There are some advantages to typing versus talking. But, oh, what we give up!

The choice: convenience or communication?

Some of us skip the conversation and send an email or text because it’s quick and efficient. No need for niceties: “Hello.” “How are you?” “What’s new in your world?”

With our fingers flying, we get right down to what needs to be said, sign off (or not), and move on to the next item on our to-do list. Not a moment wasted in idle chit-chat. There’s no arguing about how easy that is.

And when it comes to convenience, asynchronous is a wonderful thing. You can shoot me an email or a text when you first think about it. Or when you can carve out a moment from the mountain of other things you have to do today.

Then I can respond when it suits me—and fits into my busy day. You may get impatient for a reply, but theoretically, I can control my time by answering emails and texts when I’m good and ready.

Productivity gurus often recommend scheduling email replies two or three times a day, rather than getting sucked into immediate action on someone else’s agenda.

Exchanges that aren’t time-bound are easier for all of us. They’re close to essential for teams that work in different time zones.

And yet …

We give up a lot when we take the more convenient approach to communication. Yes, we can impart information quickly screen-to-screen. But there’s so much missing, isn’t there?

Those easy-to-send messages may well be misinterpreted. I snapped that time an email showed up that was dismissive, insulting and rude by design. Or, could it be she’d just tapped a quick note into her phone in the middle of some other pressing activity?

Whatever—I ascribed meaning to the tone I “heard” in that email. And let’s just say my interpretation didn’t do anything to bolster my relationship with the sender. You’ve been there, right?

Even setting aside possible miscommunication, it turns out the time-and-convenience factor is often overrated.

Instead of taking a few minutes to call somebody, we opt for a fast text or email to save time. Then there’s a misunderstanding. And we eat up way more time than we would have spent on a call, going back and forth in emails, trying to unscramble the egg.

It might have made sense to talk in real time. Maybe even in person (now there’s a red-hot idea).

Let’s have a conversation.

I’ve been playing with the words as I thought through what I wanted to say to you here. Communication … connection … conversation.

Maybe one reason some people seem to shy away from conversation is in the root of the word. Latin—”keeping company with.” Middle English—”living among, familiarity, intimacy.”

There’s not much intimacy in a text, is there? It might feel much more comfortable to communicate that way. And still, it’s missing something. That sense of “keeping company” with the other person could be what we all need.

I came home from my visit vowing to have more real-time conversations even if they come at the expense of convenience. How about you? You can post a comment here to share your thoughts. Or … we could have a conversation.