The Art of the Conversation

What does it mean to have a conversation?

Conversation is defined as

The informal exchange of ideas by spoken word.

In this day and age, I tend to see varying levels of conversability amongst individuals. I even see macro-level trends amongst larger groups of people. I also see how younger generations have a harder time engaging in good, deep and sophisticated conversations.

As millennials and younger generations are exposed to text messaging and social media at an earlier age, there is a lack of exposure to face-to-face conversation. Face-to-face conversation lends itself to force longer, deeper conversations, because it incorporates so many more factors to a conversation, such as tone of voice, environment, facial expressions, physical proximity, touch and hand gestures. Moreover, face-to-face conversation forces individuals to tie ideas together that ultimately lead to a conversation moving across topics. With text messaging, when one party gets bored or the topics of discussion aren’t seemingly obvious, the conversation can end in a non-awkward manner due to the separation involved with the medium.

I also see how conversations can range due to comfort levels. Individuals who know each other well and feel comfortable are more able to engage in richer conversations than those who are less acquainted. That being said, an individual who is confident in oneself and his or her ability to converse can ultimately create deep conversations with those who are less comfortable in the situation. (It’s about understanding the audience, and being able to live with potentially awkward moments and then blow past them to continue the conversation.)

It’s mind blowing that conversation, which is the ultimate tool for success in our society can have such a wide range of abilities and be so anxiety-provoking. People commonly fret over maintaining conversation on a romantic date, at a work event or during an interview. I believe this happens due to a combination of factors including: the effects of having more conversations over distant mediums like text messages rather than in person, a lack of comfort between the individuals conversing, a lack of confidence in one’s ability to converse, and finally the lack of understanding of what it means to have a good conversation.

As I have reflected on this, I have seen how it is easy to over think what it means to have a conversation. It is simpler to engage in a conversation that is surface level and moves between ideas and stays at one dimension. What I realized in my conversations was that I felt pressure to say something new, unique, funny or interesting as the next point of discussion. My conversational skills developed to a greater degree once I stopped focusing so hard on the next thing to discuss, and started listening to the conversation more and internalizing what had been said. Rather than bringing the next great idea to the table, I started engaging more about the topic at hand. I would ask follow-up questions that are related, or discuss ideas that were sparked in my mind based on the conversation.

All in all, conversation is a critical juncture in our society. Factors that can contribute to better conversations include having more face-to-face conversations as opposed to text messaging, being comfortable with oneself and others in the conversation, and taking time to truly listen and respond as opposed to just moving into the next discussion point. And that, is the art of the conversation.