We don’t talk anymore. We monologue. We interrupt. We lecture.
I don’t know if it’s the fault of social media, our texting culture, or if perhaps the lack of conversational finesse is the first sign of a Zombie apocalypse. But whatever it is, it’s scaring me.
I couldn’t even watch the presidential debates or the vice presidential one off. I really, really tried, but all of them made me too anxious, especially the butting in and talking over each other. For me it was like watching an overlay of every “Real Housewives” show in the franchise on full volume. Basically, an auditory dumpster fire.
What’s happened to the art of the conversation?
I’m already a person who has a very rapid cadence. (My whole childhood I was told by my parents that it was OK to breathe while speaking.) But now I find myself talking even faster and I think it’s because I want to finish my point, my story, or get to the punch line of whatever I’m yakking about before someone interrupts me.
On the flip side I’ve finished other people’s sentences in an effort to interject something besides a head nod into a conversation. And I’ve also been a “convo interruptus.” It’s usually my futile attempt to steer the topic in another direction. Or, I like to think, I’m mercifully helping someone wrap up his or her story.
Hmm, I don’t like where this is going. I’m part of the problem.
What's happened to my manners? Okay, let’s backtrack. Maybe it’s less about knowing how to converse and more about all of us being madly in love with the sound of our own voice and for that I’m totally blaming Facebook. I think we all now talk in status updates.
Instead of a give and take of a conversation, we’re all about blabbing how we think and feel with no room for anyone else to add their two cents. The problem is the other people you’re talking with also have their status updates to contribute so it’s like everyone is having separate conversations. If you’re lucky, you’ll overlap at some point.
Making it worse is that Facebook, I believe, has emboldened some people to feel like they’re freaking geniuses. Just because on your FB newsfeed there’s a space with the sentence “What’s on your mind?” doesn’t mean that outside of your social media universe anyone else cares about your musings on politics, taxes or home remedies for hammertoes.
No wonder there's people who have embraced a text-only lifestyle where they only respond to text messages. Some have taken it a step further and abandoned words altogether and only write in emojis.
Which is also scary because writing in emoji’s leads to talking in emojis. I heard a grown woman actually say during a work meeting “sad face.” Yes, she verbalized the sad face emoji, which led me to verbalizing WTH?
You know, upon further review, I think it’s not that we don’t know to converse anymore, it’s that we don’t know how to listen. A good conversation requires that every participant be equally adept at listening. And I mean really listening —being present and paying attention to what is being said, not just keeping your mouth shut while you wait for your chance to continue your verbal stream of consciousness.
Perhaps the art of conversation can be saved by revisiting the wise words of first-grade teachers everywhere. Think about a world where we would all embrace “using our listening ears.”
Reach Sherry Kuehl at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook at Snarky in the Suburbs, on Twitter at @snarkynsuburbs and snarkyinthesuburbs.com.