The Art of Conversation

  • Sep 08, 2005
  • Vicky Smith
  • Career advancement

Isn't email great! We don't have to be polite anymore because we are not speaking to a person - just curtly send that message off. How about voice mail! We can screen our calls and only talk to people when we want to - what a time saver! Now I can happily sit with email, voice mail and fax machine and never have to talk to a person to do business. Isn't it interesting that most of our stress comes from the dynamics of interpersonal conversations and relations. Yet we spend so little time anymore practicing how to converse.

When we attend meetings, work in teams or manage others, we feel dealing with people is often the most frustrating part of the job - be it with co-workers, managers, peers or subordinates. We all puzzle through the age-old dilemma of dealing with stressful interpersonal relationships, both at work and home. The typical workday, for most people, starts with a quick hello and how are things? Then we plop ourselves in front of the computers or manufacturing machines we operate, which become our companion for the day. When we get home, we put on our comfy clothes and plop down in front of the TV, video games or computer with little more than a hi and how was your day, kids?

Yes I know the world is changing and we have to get with the program or become dinosaurs. We have escalated our knowledge in technology to warp speed. Yet when it comes to a big meeting where we need to make a presentation, an important job interview or a conflict we need to deal with, we don't know how to carry these things off effectively. Most people say their biggest time wasters are endless non-productive meetings and then having to put out fires because of miscommunications. It's great to have computers, video games, TV, voice mail, etc. But if we want to improve the quality of our work/personal lives, we need to focus and practice the art of conversation to get our message across properly.

In a recent article in the Vancouver Sun, Sheila McGovern quoted Steven Appelbaum, a management professor of Concordia University saying, "Communication is a skill that must be learned, and like any skill, it improves with practice. Yet so many of today's workers are sitting in cubicles and, like Pavlov's dogs, responding to beeps and wild eeps." We cannot be lulled into becoming lazy in our written and oral communications. Knowledge of technology alone with not make us progressive 21st century workers.

The art of letter writing now is virtually dead and most of us are thrilled. What we have lost with this art is using our language correctly. How many emails, proposals, letters or resumes do you get with spelling and grammar mistakes? Very soon, the art of conversation will also be dead because we are so fascinated with the instant and impersonal response we get with technology - we no longer have to put ourselves out. 

The people, who still get the best jobs, are promoted, close the big deal or get the plum projects are the ones who have mastered the art of conversation, persuasion and listening. If you wonder why something you want doesn't come you way, examine the way you communicate. Most people try to deflect failures by blaming external circumstances. Often we don't achieve what we want because we cannot clearly state our ideas.

We need to challenge ourselves to find ways to practice conversing in a manner that will improve our quality of life. For those of you who are shy, there are excellent programs like the Dale Carnegie courses or Toastmasters in London. These groups have helped thousands of people build their confidence and gave them tools to communicate ideas successfully. For those of you who talk while you thinking - which means that others have to listen to a lot of verbal diarrhea before you get to the real point - take an Active Listening course. People who are actively working on their art of conversation have happy marriages, love their work and get results from co-workers, managers and customers. So the next time you send an email - type it as if you are sending it to a person and use some pleasantries - that's one way to practice the art of conversation. 

"Our best comes out when we have honest discussions. Our worst comes out when we behave like robots or professionals." Fernando Flores in Fast Company (

The following websites provide more tips to practice the art of conversation:

The Top 10 Tips for spring Cleaning the Cobwebs of your Communication Style

The Top 10 Distinctions on Creating Clearer Communication

The Top 10 Secrets for Healthy, Positive and Productive Communications