A Case for Reclaiming Conversation at Work

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

conversationConversation is a persistent theme in every program we teach at Simple Intentions. Particularly, we strive to raise awareness of the conversations we are not having at work – with our colleagues, but also with ourselves.

These are conversations around values, boundaries, needs, and wants. We teach that having awareness of our behaviors and their impact on everyone around us allows us to have more authentic conversations – conversations that create shared understanding and empathy – which ultimately lead to more sustainable success. When we avoid these conversations, we risk creating imbalance and disengagement from our work and colleagues.

As strong proponents of authentic conversation, then, we’re energized by the attention being paid to the new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and professor at MIT, who also wrote, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

In this new volume, Turkle explores the impact of technology on communication and relationships. Specifically, she warns that so much texting, tweeting, emailing, and other forms of “flat” digital communication are preempting opportunities for meaningful, face-to-face engagement. She cites a statistic showing a steep decline in measurements of empathy among college students over the past 20 years, mostly over the past 10 years.

Turkle also laments technology’s role in decreasing our capacity for being alone without being lonely. Boredom is beneficial, she claims, a chance to tap into our imaginations and get to know ourselves. In an interview Turkle says, “it is only when you can go within and know who you are that you can then be in a conversation and hear someone else…really hear who they are” rather than project onto that person what you need them to say or who you need them to be.

In the workplace, too often we see conversations interrupted or omitted altogether by a continuous flow of email, instant messages, likes, and follows. Increasingly, the imbalance and stress we hear about stems from over-engagement with devices. Still, like Turkle, we aren’t anti-technology; on the contrary, we love our devices and having the option to text, email and work from anywhere.

But we also promote more mindful and intentional usage of our devices – in the appropriate settings and for the right reasons. Above all, we are pro-conversation – the dimensional, face-to-face exchanges that spark connectedness and creativity. Technology has its place, but it shouldn’t take that of real conversation.

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