The art of conversation

The art of conversation 150 150 Cypher

The Art of Conversation

It is undeniable that throughout 2020 and 2021, most business conversations have happened over a screen of some sort. Unless you live under as rock, everyone is now aware of Zoom, TEAMS and Google Hangouts.

It has been interesting so see how quickly we have adopted these video conferencing platforms as the norm and, as Alan and I discussed it will be interesting to see how this practice evolves and how quickly elements of face to face meetings return later this summer.

Zoom has very quickly followed Google, Skype and Facebook, where the name of an application has become synonymous with the action of using it. But has this adoption been to the detriment of the art of conversation?

Actually, I think not!

What I noticed most about the world of virtual meetings was that firstly, I was having a lot more of them than I ever could face to face but, secondly they ran to time a lot more and I was getting a lot more action points from them. In short, my day is now more structured and I feel a lot more productive.

On the Time Management Paradox pod, we discussed that doing more of what drove a business forward and wasting less time on unnecessary and unregulated meetings was definitely a positive.

Zoomed Out
Overall, while I find the whole in, out, done, element of Zoom meetings really positive, I’ve also found them fundamentally more draining than in-person meetings. After a face-to-face meeting I would write up my notes for the client or the team and during that time I would decompress my brain. Now meetings are stacked back-to back, I decompress in one go at the end of the day, but by then my brain has gone, I am Zoomed out. I see the same impact on clients.

It could be the screen, it could be the volume, or that Zoom meetings are punchier, but I think everyone suffers serious Zoom fatigue from a day of video meetings. Alan likens it to a poker player after a long game. When we listen, properly, without the distractions of a coffee shop or a busy office, we are concentrating so much harder and our investment is deeper, which after 30 seconds of niceties at the start could last for anything up to a few hours.

It’s been interesting to see how quickly we have all adopted this technology and we discussed whether, in a Covid-free world, we would still conduct the majority of our conversations digitally or if ‘in person’ meetings would creep back in to our lives once we were able. For me the jury is still out. There may be industry biases, either way, and of course personal preferences will make a difference and not just because of on-going health fears. Some businesses – like Alan’s -thrive in this virtual world.

Time to thrive
As a business coach, Alan is a huge fan of virtual meetings. He finds it easier to help clients create the change they’re looking for during a series of Zoom meetings because he feels there is a deeper, longer investment in the conversations he has. Specifically, Zoom allows his clients to really focus on their objectives and desired outcomes.  Of course, this could be part of his evolution as a coach- as solution providers we all need to get better at this -but the focus provided by a Zoom meeting means that he gets to root causes, discovers options and identifies possible actions far quicker than when in person. The compound effect of carrying this on to the next coaching conversation means that the progress and the rate of change increases – dare I say it exponentially, and as business owners isn’t that what we are all looking for!?

I think this demonstrates that it’s not the fact that you’re sat next to someone that creates a worthwhile conversation. It’s the type of conversation you have, the investment you make it in it and the genuine focus on the outputs you generate. Whether you’re in the room or 300 miles away, nothing’s different. So I think now that people are used to it, it’s going to take time before we go back to how we were, and honestly we may never go all the way back.

Being productive was a key element for our Managing the Time Paradox podcast and with no lengthy commutes, a timely start and finish time means everyone gets more time back, but the bigger opportunity is that no-one is geographically barred from doing work with anybody else. If a series of Zoom calls is now the way we serve clients, then we can deliver this service wherever they are, whether that’s Manchester, Northern Ireland, San Francisco, Glasgow or Oxford, it makes no difference.

It will also be interesting to see what people’s new tolerance for drive time to a meeting is. Seriously, would you now drive for more than 30 minutes, if you could hop on a Zoom call instead?

The power of emotion
In any long-term business relationship, there is an undeniable human connection and emotional connection. It is an element of in person meetings one might expect to lose in a virtual space, but I think actually the opposite has been true. Conducting meetings with people at home, in their safe space, particularly during lockdowns 1.0 and 2.0 we have seen some serious emotions and emotional shifts, including anger and tears which demonstrated the level of investment being made by people in the meeting. So the accusation that you cannot get that level of emotion on a virtual call is simply untrue.

Better in person
That’s not to say that sometimes you feel you just need to be in the room. We have all seen the now infamous parish council Zoom meeting and the fabulous Jackie Weaver who had all the authority in the world. I wonder if that meeting was held face-to-face wherever half the people that we’re kicking off, shouting at her would have the balls to have done that. Conversely, the ease with which someone can be effectively thrown out of the meeting probably also had an influence on certain actions. My thoughts are that how dysfunctional must the meetings be in the first place to get to that point?

And we have all sat through Zoom meetings, professionally and personally, where people are muted, cameras don’t work, Wi-Fi is slow, or someone is sat too close to a camera so you only see half of their head. Thankfully that seems to be reserved for a certain age group, but in general of the thousands of meetings we have attended in the last 18 months, very few could have been better in person.

Every good conversation is 50% speaking, 50% listening.
I think we demonstrated on the Art of Conversation podcast that we are definitely pro-virtual conversations, but there is still a balance to find. We want to meet people, absolutely, but in this new world, the art of conversation has evolved, not disappeared. The paradigm has shifted; the Genie is out of the bottle but without loss of conversational impact.

Now I think there’s a linear relationship between the number of people on a Zoom meeting and the impact it can have. As you follow the curve of the imaginary graph, as the meeting attendees do up actually it is to the detriment of the meeting. But the business meeting with say one to five people is the sweet spot.

In summary, we talked a lot about the art of conversation, 2021 style. Alan and I dived in to what is different about a virtual conversation versus an in person one and I think we raised a number of positives for this new way of working.

Conversations are different now, but not in a bad way. If video calls enable you to structure your day better, have a greater number of more productive meetings, with clear outputs, if you are able to dive in, listen better, then your conversations are going to be better. It doesn’t matter whether they’re virtual or whether they’re in face-to-face.

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