How Can We Encourage Meaningful Conversation?

Sometimes it seems like conversation is a dying art.

We don’t talk much anymore. In-depth discussions have been replaced with small talk. Long, rambling phone calls are now five second Vine videos. A ten page, hand-written letter is now a text message.

Why is this?

Generally, there are many reasons for this change. Technology, in the form of smart phones and social media, encourages brevity. We are warned to avoid controversial topics as a way of keeping the peace. In addition, an entire generation of young adults have grown up online, where tone of voice and body language are non-existent.

As a result, we grow ever more isolated from those around us. People are not confronted with differing opinions. We don’t often talk to people with opposing views, and when we do it devolves to a shouting match. Violence is increasingly more common. Consequently, entire communities are dismissed and ignored.

Is it all bad?

And yet, we still crave conversation. We want to be intellectually stimulated. Ted Talks, for example, are wildly popular, and can be thought of as the first half of a conversation. The vlogbrothers, Hank and John Green, are YouTube celebrities based on their ongoing weekly video chats. So the desire exists in each of us for communication of ideas, and the act of sharing them with our friends and acquaintances.

So how can we revive the art of conversation? How do we overcome our dependency on the endless Facebook newsfeed scroll, and engage each other in an actual dialogue? Can we recapture the give and take, the challenge of ideas, the talk for sake of the talk? In short, to be exposed to new ideas and new points of view?

How can we encourage meaningful conversation?

Related questions: What do we have in common? How can we encourage debate? Are we too busy? How can we become better listeners? What do you get out of social media?

5 thoughts on “How Can We Encourage Meaningful Conversation?”

  1. I try to follow Stephen Covey’s advice when working to engage others in meaningful conversations: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

    This is, of course, especially true when taking part in discussions with people who have significantly different viewpoints and opinions than your own. Listen. Try not to get defensive. Ask more questions.

    Sure. It feels good to get your own ideas out there first. But if meaningful conversations are a dying art, as the question posits — which I am not certain is true — then we each need to take responsibility for respectfully drawing others out.

    1. Michael, your comment reminded me of James 1:19; “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger”.
      I find that if I listen first, and process that information, then my responses are often more meaningful.

    2. Michael, I agree. I know how hard it is to be a good listener. I suppose good listening skills are learned around the dinner table in healthy families. I probably learned to listen as a kid, but wasn’t very good at expressing myself.

      One memorable lesson on communication I learned as an adult from a Native American. She had us stand and form a circle. Then she had us pass a “talking stick” from person to person in the circle. The person holding the stick could say whatever they wanted, and no one would judge or criticize the speaker. This was years ago, so I don’t remember all the details. I just remember it felt great to be able to speak my mind without worrying about what others would say. Of course, this wasn’t a conversation per se, but it taught me the value of non-judgmental listening.

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