THE LOST ART OF CONVERSATION

As I was considering subjects for this piece, I received an E Mail announcing a seminar scheduled for next month on the use of blogs, social networking sites, gated communities and microsites in consulting. Once again I was moved to ask myself the question, “Doesn’t anyone talk anymore?” I wrote on this subject some ten years ago, but not under the shadow of all the social media we have at our fingertips today. Certainly, sites such as Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, and the others have opened new communications doors for us. We can E-mail, text, twitter, tweet, cheep, and peep, but what has happened to the art of conversation – the ability to socially interact with live bodies? Expressions, tones, body language, and words all combine to facilitate meaningful communication and understanding. Some of this is lost on the telephone; but even that method is better than impersonal, written messages.

We have lost our professional courtesy. We don’t answer our telephones. We let calls go to voice mail; then we can determine who we want to talk to and who we want to ignore.

Several weeks ago, I made 63 telephone calls on behalf of a client. After the first five or six, I started to realize this was going to be ugly, so I started keeping score. The communication barrier started at the front door of most of the firms I called. Telephones were answered by automated systems which referred me to company directories which didn’t work in several cases. When I finally worked my way through those, out of 63 calls, I reached 48 voice mails. Most of the people who knew me called back. Most of those who didn’t, did not. I can go to Facebook and find out what someone had for dinner last night, but cannot reach them on the telephone.

Why are we seeing so much of this type behavior compared to the more open and cooperative attitudes of several years ago, particularly in our industry? Certainly the economy has impacted our behavior, as have the issues of downsizing, cost cutting, new technology, and lack of job security. What is disturbing however is that the managers behaving this way are not always impacted by these issues. They simply don’t want to take the time or choose to use other message techniques. I couldn’t help but recall a conversation I had last year with someone I will call Bob. Bob, apparently having rediscovered his telephone, called and said, “It has been a while, and I just wanted to touch base. I am networking”. Now I haven’t heard from Bob in the last 8 or 9 years. Obviously, he is currently out of work and engaged in a crash program to establish a network. He might as well forget it. It won’t work. Building relationships is a lifelong, never ending project, and cannot be accomplished overnight. Nor can it be accomplished, in my opinion without personal contact.  As a provider of services for part of my career, I have often been frustrated by the failure of many supply chain managers to extend the simple courtesy of returning phone calls. This frustration turns to bemusement when the telephone rings and one of these same individuals is now out of work and suddenly my new best friend.

Am I against  social media? Absolutely not. It is great for certain things, but let’s not lose sight of why God gave us the gift of speech and hearing.

Written By: Clifford F. Lynch