The true power of conversation


I once heard about a mother who’d been asked by her six-year-old whether bread should be put in toaster ‘landscape or portrait?’

I mentioned this to a friend’s eight-year-old, who responded, ‘Why didn’t they just Google it?’ To which they added, ‘Google knows everything.’

That was the opening paragraph for a chapter in the book Digital vs Human by Richard Watson.[1] In reading that paragraph, I realised I was that eight-year-old. When I became a parent mere months ago, I had many questions. Instead of talking to other well-meaning parent-friends or my mother (who raised four children) about these questions, I consulted Google.

In every instance this prevented a conversation from happening. Conversation, while informal, is fundamental to human interaction. It’s a powerful tool we use to create, build and maintain relationships. The perfect conversation is an art, with a few generally understood principles: no interrupting, ask questions, listen carefully, provide feedback, pay attention and don’t talk for too long. General conversation involves nuance; it can evoke an emotional response, build self-confidence and trust, show value and inclusivity and, above all, it enables thought-sharing.

In hindsight, by choosing not to pick up the phone or walk down the road for a chat, I created a lonely existence; I was living in isolation. The early weeks of motherhood were lonely enough, dealing with a wee babe at odd hours, but I made the situation worse by asking Google the questions I needed answers for. There was no exposure to other thoughts or opinions, because the information I gathered, with my carefully executed search phrases, meant that I found exactly what I was looking for. From my personal experience, that isn’t always a good thing (see: Dr Google).

What I needed was interaction and involvement, with people other than my child and husband. I missed connecting and feeling like I’d actually achieved something with my day. I missed talking to people, having actual conversations where I genuinely saw things from a new perspective.

By talking to people you build trust. By asking questions you show that you want to understand. When you listen and provide feedback, people know you genuinely care about their response and are interested in their thoughts. When you’re in their presence, you read their body language to pick up on what isn’t being said and see their physical reaction. Conversation shows people that you’re human, that you don’t have all of the answers or that you, too, have an opinion.

Technology may make it easy to avoid interaction, but you don’t always have to submit to its ease or convenience. If you’re about to choose high-tech, consider whether in this instance high-touch would be the best approach – a conversation might be better than an email or text message. There’s an emotional value in conversation that you can’t replicate; it’s alive, in real-time with real people.

[1] Digital vs Human is about the relationship between people and technology (and between people and people, really, with the influence of technology). It’s fascinating and really makes you think about how far we’ve come with technology but also how far we’ve yet to go.