Conversation is the new Connection

by Rob Waldeck | May 10, 2012

For years in business, connecting was the goal. It was on the backs of my connection with friends, co-workers, prospects, and clients that I grew my business. Whether grabbing a drink after work, sticking around to chat after a meeting, attending an event or trade show or talking on the phone these connections turned into introductions, referrals, business opportunities and friendships. Being well connected was good business but more importantly it was fulfilling and fun. And most of the connecting was done in person, face-to-face; in the olden days there wasn’t much alternative (other than the phone) anyway. Over time more and more of our connections happen on-line, first via email and today through the myriad of social channels. Technology has enabled easy connection and in doing so has changed the meaning of the word; today it more readily means connect (LinkedIn), like (Facebook), follow (Twitter), direct message or text than “grab a cup of coffee”. A recent Sunday NYT article, Flight From Conversation, makes the point that we now connect at the expense of conversation and I realize that I am guilty – I’ve replaced lots of old fashioned face-to-face with lots of new fangled e-hellos and text-how are yas. And while the adoption of new technology is important, I miss the conversation it has replaced. I believe too that I am less effective at my job because of the new way I am connected to those that I work with and for. Connection today means I may know more facts about more people, but less about how they feel about those facts. The result is that I know less about them than I once did and therefore I’m less able to provide the guidance, support or service that they may need.

While the way we connect today has its benefits, it can’t replace conversation. Particularly in a business context there is no substitute for looking someone in the eye and listening to what they have to say. At the risk of stating the obvious here’s why …

First, there is nuance in conversation that can’t be replaced on-line; the tone of our voice, the nod of our head, eye contact or lack thereof. The signals are as much a part of the story as the words. The words might deliver one message but the subtle gestures, breaths and tapping toes deliver another. They provide us insight and a view into each other’s truth. There is simply no way to replace this in electronic communication ☺.

Second, conversation is commitment. Two individuals engaged in conversation have made an unstated but overt commitment to each. They have acknowledged to each other, “you are worthy of my time,” “you have my undivided attention,” “ I value you enough to focus only on you.” As I write this I realize that there are several text threads and a Facebook message that await my reply – but they wait with no expectation of immediate response.

Finally, conversation yields discovery. Being seated across from someone, whether in their office, a coffee shop or a bar is a shared, intimate experience. Emails have a subject line and it’s rare that the thread will deviate far from that context. Meetings may have an agenda but it’s almost impossible that the discussion won’t deviate in a way that gets personal. It’s these initially brief exchanges that are the fuel for closer partnership and collaboration. Off-the-cuff comments about almost anything provide insight and impetus for more conversation and relationships that grow beyond the sales call or project at hand.

These observations are nothing we don’t all know, yet we continue to sit at our desks (or on our phones) typing at clients, prospects, partners, co-workers and friends. We’ve convinced ourselves it is effective, or at least sufficient, communication. But we’ve dramatically underestimated the cost of not getting out and conversing with the people we do business with. The nuance, commitment and discovery that exist at the core of conversation is the starting point for a level of relationship that exists above and beyond what can be established solely through today’s new modes of connecting. So it’s time for me to renew my commitment to conversation. I’m confident I’ll feel the benefit in my heart and soul, not to mention in the growth of business relationships that have the potential to be more fulfilling and more profitable than the one’s I have today.

If you read this and feel compelled to comment, please do. Then give me a call and we’ll find a time to get together.