“The difference between face to face conversation and any other medium of communication is simple: No distractions are permitted.” – Alexandra Petri
We’ve learned a lot about the importance of face-to-face communication in the last several years. Despite the adoption and acceptance of virtual platforms, most prefer in-person communication and missed the human contact that comes with it.
Both scientific and anecdotal evidence back up that conclusion. But that doesn’t mean face-to-face communication is always, or even mostly, successful. Distractions in the environment, poor communication skills, and poor listening skills all contribute to breakdowns in communication.
Part of what interferes with effective face-to-face communication boils down to bad habits we’ve picked up, most of the time without even realizing it. The other part is external distractions.
The habits can be broken once we become aware of them and decide to change them. To get started, observe yourself in conversation and notice:
- How often do you interrupt someone?
- Does your body language project disinterest in the conversation?
- Do you tend to dominate a conversation?
- Do you ignore the body language of others?
These are all habits that you can break. How?
First, determine your habits by observing yourself and asking friends or colleagues you trust what they’ve noticed. It’s hard to record yourself in a face-to-face conversation, but recordings of Zoom or phone calls can help you identify some habitual behaviors that probably carry over to in-person conversations.
Next, develop a strategy. When you catch yourself falling into one of these old habits, have a plan. Some options are:
- Pause and breathe
- Check your body language
- Ask for feedback
- Listen carefully and weave what you are hearing into your response
Managing External Distractions
You may or may not have the ability to control the noise level, the temperature, or side conversations. However, you can increase engagement through your body language and listening skills. Here are some ways to do that:
- Make eye connection to show you are listening and understanding
- Use gestures and facial expressions to hold attention. The more interesting and involved you are, the less you and others will notice the distractions.
- Put away your cell phone and other devices. The sound of an incoming text or email can signal to the listener that you are not fully engaged.
There’s plenty of research on the effect cell phones have on conversation. No doubt, our cell phones are a distraction – part of our mind is devoted to listening for its chimes, rings, and vibrations, and the research shows we do not multi-task as well as we think. Also, we are more reluctant to start nuanced conversations when it’s clear that someone may choose to disconnect in the middle of a conversation to answer the siren call of their cell phone.
The arguments about whether or not technology is killing the art of conversation will undoubtedly continue for some time. But you can help keep the art form alive by eliminating as many distractions as possible when you have the opportunity to communicate face-to-face with someone. Put your cell phone away, focus on the other person, and you may re-discover just how deeply fulfilling a good conversation can be.
Here are two more articles of interest: