Conversation – a dying art?17th April 2012
Recently I have been prompted to reflect on the meaning of ‘conversation’ in this digital world, when everyone seems glued to their smart phones and tablets. An example is a recent ‘conversation’ (yes, we did converse face-to-face) with my daughter where I asked if she had spoken to a friend; she responded saying yes, they had had a conversation on Facebook (or was it Twitter…?). So I asked her what she meant by a conversation. Had they conversed ‘to and fro’? She said she had responded to a status update with a message and her friend had answered her back. That was her idea of a conversation!
According to the dictionary she is partly right, a conversation is ‘interactive’, it is ‘responding to something that has previously been said’. However the issue would seem to be that today’s definition is out of date, as it also indicates that a conversation is an oral process. And it is true, when we advise our clients on social media, we talk about engaging with their followers and social communities through online conversations. In other words, responding to feedback and being interactive, but not necessarily orally.
I also spotted an interesting article by FT feature writer John McDermott who wrote about “How to have a conversation: it’s a dying art, struck down by text, email and messaging. So how can we be taught how to talk to each other?” He had attended a class at The School of Life – set up by Alain de Botton – to help us have happier lives! The classes examined the history of conversation, the art of which reached its peak during the late 18th century (think of Jane Austen salons). The classes also gave six tips: be curious; take off your mask; empathise; get behind the job title; use adventurous openings; have courage. He concluded that successful conversations need not be a performance art, nor have a purpose, but that most people seek the act of talking, listening and learning.
We believe that effective public relations is also about having conversations, conversations that are intended to persuade people to change their behaviour. And we have developed our own framework for communications programmes called ‘The power of persuasive conversations’, based around five key steps: building credibility; telling compelling stories; listening and conversing; making connections and prompting change with a call to action.
The key to all these conversations, whether oral or through social media, is having rapport and listening; there is no need for literary references to prompt a good conversation. If you don’t listen properly, then you cannot respond. And the best place for a good conversation? Well, I and my fellow Kilimanjaro climbers would say a long walk; but I’ll leave it up to you to tell me your favourite place?