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Does Anyone Have an In-Person Conversation Anymore?

Technology connects us to the outside world, but what about connecting to the world right in front of us?

Take a look around you. How many people are on their mobile phones talking, walking, reading, surfing, emailing, or texting? How many people are multitasking on their phones as they walk down the street, across the street, or driving. (Read, “The Multitasking Myth: Are You a Culprit?”)

Now look again: how many people are engaged with their phones when they’re in person with another person?

What happened to actually paying attention to the person in front of you—the person with whom you (hopefully) arranged time?

The Brunch Conundrum

On any given weekend morning, observe people having brunch at a restaurant. I used to be amazed at how people could share a meal, enjoy their first cup of coffee, and read the newspaper—all without saying a word to each other. Why bother going out? (Some people say it’s a sign of an established relationship, when you don’t have to speak to be together. I don’t buy it.)

Now it’s even worse (yes, this is how I see it, worse). These people no longer bring a newspaper to brunch; their newspapers have been replaced by smart phones and Siri. I recently observed this behavior first-hand when my husband and I went out for a weekend brunch. For at least 15 minutes, the couple next to us never exchanged a word. They were engaged with their phones—the outside world—and not with each other.

Rediscover the Art of Conversation

Connecting with our community is important (evident by Facebook’s popularity). But what’s wrong with the picture when a table of two (or four, or more) is busy updating their Facebook status about where they are, what they’re doing, and taking a picture of same instead of actually being where they are?

What has happened to the art of conversation? I challenge you to put down your phone during a meal or a meeting. Be with the person you’re with.

Find a Topic of Conversation

How about sharing our experiences, insights, observations, points of view, funny stories, or books we’re reading? Maybe you’ll look at people walking into the restaurant and play a game together: guess where they’re from, how they’re related, where they’ve just been, how old they are? (Admission: my husband and I play this game, and have a lot of fun with it.)

You can’t laugh or converse with a phone. OK, yes, Siri will talk to you (and provide some entertaining non sequitur answers), but what about your real, live table partner?

Engage in the Present

We’ve forgotten the sound, the touch, and the power of conversation—one on one. Relationships still rule, so don’t let yours fall apart because of that little device in your hand. Put it away. (In fact, the more you engage in person, the greater the trust you develop—in both your personal and professional lives. Read, “Trust: Get It Right the First Time”.)

Some Things Are Just Better In Person

Do you remember the Southwest Airlines’ “Some Things Are Just Better In Person” campaign (2001)? The commercial series focused on things that were better in person. Among the “better in person” messages:

  • You Can’t Fax a Handshake
  • You Can’t Pat a Voicemail on the Back
  • You Can’t Tickle a Voicemail
  • You Can’t Fax a Pillow Fight
  • You Can’t Slow Dance Online
  • You Can’t Have Coffee With a Website
  • You Can’t Smell Homemade Bread on Your Pager (It’s extinct…)
  • You Can’t Email a Kiss

Southwest Airlines isn’t perfect (no airline is). But the company regularly raises the bar from the bare minimum to a higher, more personal level. (Read, “Get Personal – Southwest”.)

My point is this: get personal. Put down the phone and be with the person you’re with.

Reach Out & Comment

Either in person, or over the phone—personal connection matters. When was the last time you noticed a shift in success because you used a more direct method of communication (in-person always wins). Comment here, personally.

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