Last night I had dinner with old friends. Nine of us sat around a table and had a stimulating, three hour conversation. We laughed at shared humor, asked each other for advice, commented on challenges, and shared our thoughts and opinions on current issues. Conversation was easy and speaking flowed from one person to another. No one was interrupted, cut off, or ignored. I am smiling as I recollect an evening well spent, pleasant and informative.
How have we lost the art of a good conversation? I say lost because I so rarely experience a mutual and supportive exchange of information and opinion. Most dialogue I witness soon becomes monologue as the speaker becomes more concerned about influencing opinion and decisions than allowing another voice to enter the discourse. Business meetings in particular usually centered around a single speaker presenting (pontificating?) as others mutely listen. Conference room conversations soon degenerate into power plays, people voicing their opinion without acknowledging other’s input. Listening, a necessary ingredient for true conversation is scant to nonexistent. When I reflect on my delightful dinner with friends, I recollect a number of exchanges on current issues of the day. Each of my friends expressed their views of the issue on the table and I realized that each of us had filtered our understanding of the event through our own lens of values and beliefs. By listening to each one’s opinion, I experienced many ways to view a situation that I now realized was much more complex than I originally viewed True conversation could be a wonderful asset for any business leader. I believe that the dark side of organizational culture: low trust, power plays, win-lose competitive environments, all block open dialogue. We need to make a conscious effort to revive the art of conversation. My challenge for all of us this summer: practice the art of good conversation. Elicit opinion, reward openness, and establish forums for shared thinking. Build your skills as a good conversationalist and see people welcome you into their circles. You might even get a good dinner out of it!