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The Power of Conversation

In a world becoming increasingly integrated with technology, conversation is becoming a thing of the wayside. Relationships that were based on conversation in the past are now virtual, to the point that we may feel we know people as well as some of our good friends having never met them.

When we speak to each other, we speak in sarcasm, metaphors, and idioms. We personify, hyperbolize, and stretch the truth to create lively conversation. This figures of speech spark emotions and reactions that build trust, depth, and value in a relationship in ways reading text simply can’t. And so when we strip verbal, face-to-face communication and replace it with text and virtual learning, we simply can’t get as much out of our relationships and friendships as we could in the past.

The number one cause of mental illness in Canadian Universities in 2013 was loneliness. I can only assume that this is caused from the false representation of ourselves on social media, and the lack of traditional communication. The way we post about our daily lives isn’t a proper reflection on the days we live, but more of a highlight reel that shows our followers who we are and how we live.

When it comes to education, the most powerful exercises are those where young students have the opportunity to talk and learn with each other. The problem solving that occurs during this time of action and reaction simple can’t be matched. As one student makes a mistake, calculations are being made and expressions are read from the other people in the group that may teach them more than the teacher ever could. This experience, conversation and interaction is invaluable and cant be replaced.

Too often we hear about a shift in technology to be more focused on an ipad format, where students can grow and learn at their own pace. Though this is very valuable, the interaction between students proves to be incredibly important in the development of social skills.

As students move from the younger grades and into high school and university, it becomes less about the conventional learning, and more about the development of friendships. A recent study by has revealed that the average person spends 90 minutes a day on their phone, which may not seem like too much, but when we think about it closely, it means that over 10% of a typical day would be looking at the screen. Thinking back 10-15 years ago, these phones didn’t exist and we had 10% of not only our day, but our year back as well. This suddenly becomes a staggering statistic all of the sudden.

What is scarier, is that these statistics are now considered old. While the U.S. did not lead global markets in terms of amount of time spent on social media networks, it was far and away the highest consumer of monthly data, spending the most time per day on their phones with a staggering 4.7 hours. Considering that the average American is awake for just over 15 hours a day (seeing as we sleep for an average of eight hours and 42 minutes), this means that we spend approximately a third of our time on our phones. Sure, using your smartphone isn’t mutually exclusive with completing other activities, but still, 4.7 hours is a significant chunk of the day.

Conversations can’t be replaced. We’re losing the way we communicate and people are suffering as a result. Yes, the cat video was hilarious, but was it worth losing (or failing to make) a friend over?

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The Gift of Presence

Today I caught myself walking down the street and listening to the birds above sing. I heard the cars that were driving by, and the sounds the tires made as they splashed through the puddles from the rain that had fallen just a short time ago. I found myself feeling my feet hit the pavement, and the feeling I got from being present. I felt clear and composed, and I felt comfortable in what it was I was about to do.

This was while walking to my biggest meeting of the year.

Not too long ago I was on a similar walk. I had practiced and practiced my pitch, and I felt that I had the precise set of words that would do nothing less than ‘wow’ whoever it was that I was going to talk to. I thought I knew the company inside out, and could address all the concerns of the parts of the strategic plan that were relevant to my company. I worried and stressed about the outcome of the meeting, only to realize after a conversation with a great friend and mentor that living life in the future could prove to be hugely detrimental to the success of the meeting.

Now, when I go to any meeting, or any conversation, my main priorities are to do my homework, and show up to the room with a clear head and an open mind. The truth is that regardless of how prepared we are, and how scripted and perfected the ‘would-be’ pitch is, we’ll never know what the person on the other side is thinking, feeling, or how they’re going to react to what it is we have to say.

After all, we’re only human. Humans are hard to predict.

Six months ago when I went into these meeting, I would do all I could to bring it back to my agenda and script. I felt that if I were to lose my place and fall off of the metaphorical queue cards, that I wouldn’t be able to deliver my pitch.

This is far from true.

Living life in the future, and in strict anticipation of what might happen clouds us from what will happen. There are too many variables to possibly consider, and regardless of the pitch we prepare, we will never be ready for whatever the other person has to throw at us.

So today when I walked in the meeting, yes, I had done my homework, but I was there to listen just as much as I was there to learn.

What I’ve discovered recently (and this may seem blatantly trivial) is that we are all people. We all have loved ones, all get sick, all get flat tires or stuck in transit, all have good an bad days, all get hungry, and all want the best for ourselves and our family. Catching someone at their best is incredibly difficult, and coming into the conversation ready to understand them and adapt to the situation is really, all we can do.

I walked into the meeting and saw that the person on the other side of the table was clearly under a little stress, and didn’t really want to be a part of the meeting. This called for a quick audible and an adjustment for the conversation. My goal was to get to the root of the problem so that I could relate, sympathize, and then get on the same level.

As I started to explore and gently poke, I found that in fact, there was a layoff in the organization. This person lost a peer that was a good friend, and didn’t really know how to handle it. This turned into a conversation about the economy, the difficult times that others were facing, and how alternative methods of downsizing could have perhaps saved the job.

Sure, we drifted off track but that meeting lead to another, which eventually ended up in an engagement with the company. This was about business, it was about relationships. This wasn’t about a sale, it was about understanding.

To make a shift like this from a meeting that was fully intended to be a sale, to more of a sympathetic, understanding conversation was all because of the ability to asses the situation real-time and make an adjustment that ultimately ended up in an adjustment in tone, content, and ask. Presence was the key.

Living in the future and letting the endless variables, would-be, could-be situations weighs on us. Being you, your truest you, and caring about the person on the other side of the table is true business, because business is bigger than sales.

Presence was the gift. I’m not taking it for granted any more.

The Power of Conversation in the Workplace

Conversing in the workforce isn’t what it was in the past. In some cases, training and initial phases of on-the-job learning may be done without ever communicating with people and hearing and learning from them first hand. Though it may not seem related, the average tenure for Millennials (those born between 1980-1994) is sadly only 18-24 months, and though communication can’t be solely blamed for the poor statistics, it is certainly a contributing factor.

Often we talk about cross-generational mentorship. That is, the ability to have different generations learn from each other in the workplace. This, simplified, is just mentorship. This mentorship requires communication. It can’t be done on a computer, or over email as effectively, and there isn’t the focus that either group would have, assuming traditional conversation were to take place. In a world where we are trying to live faster and be more productive than we were in the past, it is difficult to slow down and actually learn from the people who are more senior that the juniors in the workplace.

This leads too, to giving junior people a seat at the table. Often we recommend giving the younger generation a seat at the table to be able to provide an alternate perspective, opinion, or angle to the situation at hand. This individual doesn’t necessarily have to have an equal vote, but in a company or organization that is striving toward the same goal, it would seem silly to not have a more diverse perspective at the table.

Another thing to consider when giving people a seat at the table and valuing their opinions is the consideration of engagement and involvement in the company. The juniors that have the opportunity to contribute at a larger scale to the company are sure to be more prepared to do the best work they possibly can. Research suggests too, that these individuals speak more highly of their job, peers, and senior people in the company, and inspire and motivate others around them to have a similar opportunity. Again though, the common thread here is that conversations are taking place and people are being valued in ways they aren’t if the conversation is happening over email or phone.

Too, there is a lot of talk about the value of remote work, and we are continuing to see a greater shift of people moving from the office, to the bedroom or coffee shop. Though conversation happens in these situations, it may not be with a ‘work’ focus. The communication between employees and employers, employees to each other, and employees to peers is important in every case. Ensuring there is a space and time for people to talk and interact may be part of the key to improving retention and allowing people to do better work.

Conversation isn’t dead, but it is dying slowly. We have to ensure that there is a great deal of focus and effort being put on the creation of time and space for people to communicate face-to-face, and learn from each other as much as possible.

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