Conversation matters

Conversation is centre-stage in most people’s lives. We might even see the whole of life—and work—as one conversation followed by another and then another. Talking together is what many of us spend a large portion of our time doing, whether it’s in the boardroom, across the kitchen table, on the factory floor or at the pub. Making changes to how we talk an, therefore, have a big impact on our lives. Conversation matters!

I became interested in conversation at a young age. As I listened to grown-ups talk, I discovered some patterns that years later have informed my practice as a dialogue coach. Even more valuable to me, however, was the realization of how much our everyday lives revolve around conversation. As a youngster I accompanied my grandmother to many coffee mornings and came to appreciate that talking together was the glue that kept these elderly women connected. It was how they supported each other, shared their stories and found solace in their often solitary lives. Conversation was what kept them alive.

The benefits of conversation

Listening to my grandmother and her friends talk made me realize that even an apparently trivial conversation matters. Talking together:

– Forms friendships

– Airs issues

– Informs our decisions

– Creates new ideas

– Deepens connections

– Changes how we think about things.

Research proves how much we talk

No wonder we spend so much of our time talking! The research bears this out. If I asked you what proportion of your waking life is spent talking to other people, what would you say? When I put this question to managers and leaders at the dialogue workshops I run in the corporate world, the typical response I receive is somewhere between 40 and 80 percent. Moreover, a consistent pattern emerges: the more senior a leader, the more time he or she spends interacting with others.

A survey carried out in 2010 by Courage Beer also reveals how much we talk in our everyday lives. They found that in a sample of 3,000 British adults, the typical person has 27 conversations a day, lasting an average of 10 minutes each. This adds up to a rather staggering 4.5 hours a day talking.

Even more revealing, however, was the finding that while conversations were very commonplace, nearly half of them (43 percent) were deemed to be pointless. If we were to make our conversations more meaningful, it would make a huge difference to the quality of our lives. And this brings us to the question: What makes a good conversation?

I’ll cover some of my own thoughts on why conversation matters in the next post. In the meantime, I’d love to know what you think!

Published on LinkedIn on 12 August 1014

What makes a good conversation?

I’m delighted to welcome you to my blog. I’m excited to be starting a conversation with you about… conversation. I believe that talking together is central in our lives. If we improve how we converse, we enrich our lives.

HSBC Ad: A world of investments is just one conversation awayWalking down Oxford Street in central London last week, I saw an ad in the window of HSBC bank. It read: “A world of investments is just one conversation away”. It made me think how valuable a single conversation can be and how a career can change as a result of one short talk.

Some years ago, I spoke with a fellow consultant about my passion for dialogue. I was inspired by Bill Isaacs’ work, particularly his book Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. We often think of dialogue as between two people, but Bill had described how to create a conversation amongst 20 people so they could access their collective wisdom.

“But what’s your thinking on dialogue?” my colleague asked. “What do you have to say?”

I was so stirred by his question that I went home and sketched out some ideas. Several years later, when I received an unexpected email from the commissioning editor of Duncan Baird Publishing asking me to submit a proposal for a book on conversation, I dug out the scrappy notes that I’d tucked away. Because of that short talk years earlier, I wasn’t too overwhelmed at having to write a book proposal. Nearly a year later, when I delivered the manuscript for my book, Life-Changing Conversations, I gave thanks for the gift of that question from my colleague.

Let me know what you think

I look forward to exploring with you how we can expand our capacity to talk, even when there are tough things to say. I welcome your comments, queries and insights, and I want to hear your stories about the power of good conversation in your lives.