Having an honest, face-to-face conversations is one of humanity’s oldest joys. As social animals, it gives us great pleasure to connect at a deeper level.
However, these conversations are dying today. Most communication happens from behind screens, sanitized of nuance, attention and realness. We have seen how this is leading to a break-down in communication across political boundaries everywhere. I do not need to labour upon the decline of real conversations in present times, and its consequent disadvantages.
But how do we have engaging conversations? That is perhaps the most useful thing that school doesn’t teach us.
The foremost quality that makes an activity engaging is a feeling of “flow”. Flow is a condition whereby we are so engrossed that we lose sense of time, our surroundings and even of our own selves. It usually happens when the complexity of an activity meets our current level of competence – too simple and it turns boring. Too complex, and it becomes stressful. Computer games are the classic example of a flow inducing activity. They are designed to increase in complexity as their players progress across levels and increase in competence.
Although conversations seem simple and boring, they are, in reality, complex and hard. The reason people are moving away from conversations is because digital mediums offer them an easier alternative. It is easier to hide behind a screen and text somebody than have the courage to look them in the eye and tell them the truth. The key to making conversations engaging is to modulate the level of complexity so that it engages all the parties involved. We do this by shifting attention to the other person – by listening to them, observing their body language and steering our conversations accordingly. What maybe easy for you as an engineer might be complex for a social scientist and vice-versa. A child may have lesser knowledge than you, but a richer and more fertile sense of imagination. The idea is to keep exploring until you find the golden middle ground.
To have more engaging conversations is to change our mindsets towards them, and to direct our attention to the other person. By making these shifts, we can rediscover one of humanity’s oldest joys, and contribute to a better, more harmonious world.
Inspiration: Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi