On the art of conversation

May 9, 2011

Lovely post from the Nick Southgate at the School of Life on the lost art of conversation.  In an age of instant updates we’re flooded with information but sadly deficient in the pleasure of conversation.  Dr Johnson’s description of conversations as

The happiest conversation is that of which nothing is distinctly remembered but a general effect of pleasing impression

is a far cry from what we’re used to in the digital age.  Although we ‘converse’ on Twitter and Facebook it’s hard to think of this kind of pleasure emanating from 140 characters or less.  But perhaps that’s the point

When we reduce conversation to cause and effect and see its purpose as merely the transmission of information we do a great disservice not only to conversation but to ourselves. We make it impossible to enjoy that ‘general effect of pleasing impression’ that Johnson praised so warmly. When we withdraw from conversations chastising ourselves for not getting our point across, lamenting an exchange we deem to have yielded too little progress, or scolding others for imposing their agendas, we are victims to the lost art of conversation and our ages’ instrumental analysis of it.

Lately I’ve been thinking about conversations and, in particular, how they relate to work and our experience of organising.  We tell stories to make sense of our work lives…more particularly, we tell stories to make sense of the emotional content of our work lives…I’m not sure the content is as important as the act of telling, listening and relating, in other words, stories are a meaning making exercise whereby we talk ourselves into being and through the act of conversing, understand how we feel.  The art of conversation also relates to the art of listening – but maybe that’s for another day and another post.


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