Does the phrase conversational competence mean anything to you? If it does, great, you’re ahead of the game. If not, buckle up ‘cause it’s about to get a whole lot more important. We define conversational competence, quite simply, as the ability to exchange thoughts and ideas in a sustained, cogent and civil manner.
Celeste Headlee is an award winning journalist who has spent a good deal of her life listening to and having conversations with people from all walks of life. In 2015 she gave a TEDx talk entitled, 10 Ways To Have a Better Conversation. In this fantastic talk she references Paul Barnwell, a high school teacher who, after assigning a communication project to his students, wrote a piece in The Atlantic about his classroom observations. Celeste shared this quote from the article,
"I came to realize that conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach. Kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and each other through screens, but rarely do they have an opportunity to hone their interpersonal communications skills.
It might sound like a funny question, but we have to ask ourselves: Is there any 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain coherent, confident conversation?”
The answer to that question is no. Actually, it’s “HELL NO!”
Meaningful conversations are becoming lost or “dumbed down” and conversational competence has grown dark. We can bring it back into the light. We really have no choice because conversation moves the world forward.
We live in an age that promotes communication laziness. People, and not just high school and college students, have grown lazy in their language. We’re lazy in our ability to initiate conversations, much less sustain them, and lazy about listening to others. Mostly, we’re too lazy to do what is required to learn and hone such a valuable skill. We cannot continue to allow technology solely to do all of the heavy lifting for us.
People won’t change of their own volition until the pain point is too great, and right now is a pretty painful point in our history. It’s time that we wake up and start putting more value into learning conversational skills because we need this skill to survive and to thrive. For many, lack of skills is the impediment to a better job, a more fulfilling relationship and a more satisfying life.
One of my favorite quotes is, “A single word is powerful, but a conversation can move mountains.” Whether it’s mountains, our life, our career, or our business, if we want to move in a better direction, it’s going to happen through conversations. I encourage everyone to heed Celeste’s advice and build that conversation muscle. Great conversations are an exchange, a give and take and hopefully we leave them better people for having had them. We forget poor or weak conversations quickly, perhaps even while we’re having them.
I’ve always believed that it’s possible to be one conversation away from experiencing a life-changing moment. Imagine if we all started working a little harder at growing our conversations. Imagine what an impact we could have on ourselves and the world.
Jason Torres is a Trainer and Conversation Catalyst with Practical Dramatics, based in Charleston, SC. The company uses theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans.