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 can, therefore, have a big impact on our lives.
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.
Listening to my grandmother and her friends talk made me realize that even an apparently trivial conversation brings great benefits. Talking together:
– Forms friendships
– Airs issues
– Informs our decisions
– Creates new ideas
– Deepens connections
– Changes how we think about things.
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 in the next post. In the meantime, I’d love to know what you think!