How to Revive the Lost Art of Conversation - Shut up and Listen

Caroline de Braganza

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If you were born before 1980, you’ve witnessed the WWW—when the World Went Whacky—otherwise known as the world wide web.

“We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”—Sherry Turkle, professor of social psychology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

My stylist told me a hair-raising story from one of his clients whose teenage daughter was having a sleepover at their home. As dinner time approached, the mother became concerned at the silence from her daughter’s room, so headed off to check on the girls.

They were sitting in a circle, eyes glued to their respective screens, thumbs tapping on their phones - texting each other!

Is that the world we envisaged? Has media chatter killed the art of conversation?

A brief history

Before personal computers, browsers, and social media services such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram appeared, we spoke to each other over a landline phone or met for a cup of coffee.

There was no email. People wrote personal letters by hand, business correspondence on a typewriter. We folded the pages and put them in envelopes; lickety-split stamp on the top right corner. The postal worker could rubber stamp the date, time and place of processing.

Before FB posts, Tweets and Chats, the fastest way to send a message was the telegram.. The cost dictated that you be brief and to the point as you paid per word, including punctuation. “Dear Caroline Stop We regret application unsuccessful Stop”.

Unlike today where we stream music, our entertainment at home was playing records on the gramophone or listening to the radio. News, plays, quiz shows, series, and soapies if you cared for that. After work, you read the evening newspaper. The Sunday newspaper was the highlight of the week. Full of news, comic strips, scandals, and my personal favourite - crossword puzzles.

Now we access news online, print media has collapsed and many journalists are out of work.

We don’t talk any more

Over and above the entertainment, we spoke to each other. No texting. It was exhilarating, a whole-body experience filled with facial expressions, hand gestures and eye contact.

How the world has changed!

“When you have nothing to say, say nothing.”- Charles Caleb Colton.

What’s the point of gabbing on to fill a void of silence? Those pointless posts on social media giving a blow by blow account of somebody’s life -which does nothing to advance an enlightened society and is often not an accurate reflection of the person in actual life.

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We don’t listen any more

Because of self-imposed time constraints, we’ve forgotten how to listen. As the other speaks, we’re preparing our reply, what we are feeling.

Conversation is a two-way street, not a random tweet. Even if you’re communicating on Zoom.

What follows are some ground rules to revive this lost art.

These are helpful if your relationship with your partner or a friend has gotten to where you talk past one another instead of engaging in meaningful communication with each other. You can formalise the process and set up a time for your discussion.

  • You take turns to speak
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Listen with full attention
  • Put aside any emotional reactions
  • When it’s your turn to speak, start with acknowledging what the other said
  • Debate, clarify, and either agree or disagree, giving your reasons.
  • Now it’s your turn to speak

It’s important to remember your choice of words should not allow the conversation to descend into a finger-pointing exercise.

Don’t say, “You make me angry when you say that,” because your blaming the other party for how you feel.

Rephrase and say, “When you say ......, it makes me feel ... because it reminds me of when ....”

In this way, you’re taking ownership for your emotional reaction, and asking them to understand why.

You may feel awkward at first, but if you both cooperate. it will become second nature.

Final thoughts

For the sake of our emotional health, we need a deeper connection with each other than rapid responses to FB posts or tweets. Remember, there is serenity in silence too.

Why not give it some thought and turn reaction into creation? (Same letters!)

Verbal and body language, coupled with facial expressions, are our most effective tools of communication.

Of course, these days we have to keep our social distance and wear masks to protect others. The only visible part of our face is our eyes and brows, but how much you can read in them may surprise you.

Here’s to reviving the lost art of conversation!

(Title Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

(emoji by 95C from Pixabay)

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Published essayist. Follow me for local news that impacts our lives, plus stories on public and mental health. Through writing, I also share my passion for music, politics, our environment and social justice, and hope you find value in my words.

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