I’m feeling a bit dismayed.
Several times, over the past few weeks, I’ve been in scenarios where people seem to have entirely lost the simple art of talking to one another.
For me, a conversation is an informal exchange of words, thoughts, questions, usually shared equally between a group of people.
I googled dictionary definitions, and they were pretty similar.
It’s not about one person dominating; I’ve always believed it’s polite to show an interest in the people you’re conversing with.
I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve been wrong for all these years though…
A few weeks back, my wife and I were invited to the VIP opening evening for a new eatery.
They had live music, balloons, local movers and shakers… you can imagine, I’m sure. A lovely soirée to mark the occasion.
Our host sat us down at a table with two other ladies.
At first, they smiled, but seemed a little irritated at having their space invaded. It was nothing they said, or did – just a vibe we probably weren’t meant to pick up on. What can I say? I’m slightly psychic – can’t help it 😉.
Honestly, if I’d been out with a pal for the evening and someone else had been plonked at our table, my feathers would probably have rustled a little too.
However, this was a launch party. Our host was trying to get people to mingle. There was free food and drinks. Let’s all make the most of it, eh?
Our table companions continued to talk amongst themselves, and it was beginning to feel a little awkward, so we dove in.
We asked what had brought them there that evening, what they did, whether they lived locally – all the usual stuff of conversation.
Turns out one of them was there to report for a local magazine and the other was her friend, along for the company and experience.
Funny thing was, by the time they left, we knew who they were, where they worked, they’d taken pictures of our food, shown us pictures of a young relative on their first day at school, talked about other events they’d been to and were going to, yet they’d asked nothing about us.
NOTHING. Zip. Diddly squat.
We wondered whatever happened to investigative journalism… then we wondered whatever happened to plain, old conversation.
This would have been THE easiest scenario to converse with strangers.
We were all in the same boat.
It’s not difficult, is it?
You ask what someone does for a living, they respond, then ask what you do.
You ask what brings someone to an event, they answer, then ask the same of you.
Simple. Easy peasy.
Except, in this scenario, it was all one way. Like getting blood from a stone.
We genuinely weren’t sure whether they were horribly self-obsessed or just totally unaware.
I parked it, then, only this week, had another terrible exchange on LinkedIn InMail.
It went like this (and I’m changing the name to protect the other party – let’s call her Fran, just for the sake of this article, and I’m switching the names of her programmes too).
Fran: Hi Taz,
I have read your profile with interest and it appears that there may be potential synergies between our organisations…
Are you OK to connect?
Me: Hi. No problem.
Fran: Hi Taz,
Thanks so much for accepting my connection request…
I thought it would be nice to share a “quite fun” TV interview with my CEO on “Your 5 Transformational Steps To Business Success” which I hope that you will find helpful:
*Fran shared a link here*
Do reach out if there is any way I can assist you at all…
Me (beginning to feel a little sold at): *thumbs up emoji* 👍🏻
Fran (a few days later): Hi Taz,
I hope that you found the video of the TV interview interesting…
As may know, we love to work with CEO’s and leaders under our “9 Pillars For Growing You And Transforming Your Business” programme and I am just wondering if this may interest you?
Here is the link for more info:
*Fran shares another link*
Do let me know if you would like to further explore and I will be pleased to assist you 🙂
Me: So, just to check, did you actually mean you thought there was synergy, or did you mean you thought I might be a potential client?
Fran: Hi Taz,
Everything starts with a conservation we could become a member but we have partner opportunities too and in your case this may be more appropriate.
So I need to understand what is important for you and I will do my best to help and if necessary will arrange for a call between you and my CEO
Me: How about actually getting to know me, maybe finding out who I am, what my drivers are, reading my posts, engaging there for a while before diving in?
Fran: Hi Taz
I have reviewed your profile and that is why I have referred to the partner opportunities in particular. I have also shared quite a bit of value with you.
I would really suggest that you take a more open approach online because in effect you are pushing people away at a crucial part when someone is wanting to build the relationship first
I will leave it to you if you want to further engage
Me: Kindest back to you as well, Fran.
Trouble is, so many people are using LinkedIn in precisely this way. There’s nowhere near enough relationship building before the pitch.
It’s the trust bank concept that’s sorely missing from so many contacts on here.
Every time we ask people to do something – whether that’s watch a video, sign up for emails, give some of their time, that’s a coin out of the trust bank.
Every time we give something freely, with no agenda, that’s putting a coin into the trust bank.
Your messages had an agenda from the outset.
Your first message to me said you’d read my profile and there appeared to be ‘synergy’.
Honestly… I’ve had so many messages from people claiming ‘synergy’ when, in fact, they just want to sell to me, I was a little wary.
Your second message sent me a link to an interview with your CEO about growth and success. You asked nothing about me and assumed I’d want to give up my time to watch your boss, without even ascertaining whether I had need. My wariness grew. You were pushing your business message on me without even asking if I wanted that. It was, fairly obviously, the beginnings of a pitch.
In your next message, you assumed I’d watched your video and went on to pitch at me, with a programme description that – surprise – almost exactly matched the topic of your CEO’s video.
You’re right. Everything *does* start with a conversation. But this wasn’t a conversation. It was a series of messages pushed at me, with a clear sales outcome in mind, and no real care for my business, my requirements or even my interest.
The last message you sent suggested a more open online approach, so as not to push people away. I would echo those words back to you.
Unfortunately, sentiment is hard to read on flat text, so, just for the record, I’m writing this with an even tone. Am I exasperated? A little. Do I hope this helps you in future conversations? Yes, absolutely.
‘Fran’ hadn’t responded by the time I wrote this. I’ve no idea if she will. I found it fascinating that she saw nothing wrong with her approach, believed she’d given value by sending a video about her business and, in fact, told me to be more open.
I stand by my statement. That is NOT a conversation.
If someone approached you in the street, told you about their business, thrust a brochure into your hand and told you they were delivering value by doing so, would you feel like you’d had a conversation?
For anyone here who’s ever been to a business networking event and had someone talk at them and stick a business card in their face, it’s pretty much the same thing.
Sitting with people at an event, listening to them waxing lyrical about their lives and asking nothing about yours in return? That’s not a conversation either.
I could go on. There have been many other scenarios I’ve noticed. Maybe you’ve noticed too.
When I work with groups of people, we put authentic speaking and listening skills at the top of the agenda. Everyone has time to speak AND feel heard.
We build rapport too – we take the time to get to know one another, through two-way conversations, as well as social breaks and group activities.
That’s an obvious starting point to any relationship, isn’t it? Getting to know one another.
Is that stuff really only being taught in workshop scenarios now though? What about learning through life? You know… bog standard human interaction.
ARE we losing the art of conversation?
If so, what’s to blame?
Is it our education system? Social media? The breakdown of quality family time?
What’s going on?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Until next time,