Conversation – The lost art of Communication.

Times are changing.  Gone are the one-way dialogue days of soapbox marketing: the monologue that once captured the sale, is no longer necessarily the goal.  

Our fast-paced, automated, digital world supplies our need for speed and instant gratification, but in its wake leaves a hankering for more: a yearning for human touch. A coveted scarcity in our modern age of convenience: “In today’s fast-paced, overly-automated and digitally-driven society,” Celinne Da Costa writes in Forbes, “humanity is fast becoming a premium”.

The need for authentic human connection has never been greater.

Companies are moving further away from blasting out single market messaging in recognition that these days, it’s less about proffering solutions and more about building relationships.

It’s also no longer just enough to win clients with ‘brilliant creativity’ and an impressive bragging wall.  Chuck Kent, in a recent article in Brandingmag suggests: “Any wow factor is short-lived, as evidenced by the low satisfaction rate among clients (just 8% are ‘extremely satisfied’, and barely half are even ‘fairly happy’ with their agency, according to a recent industry survey).”

In the same article, Dustin Longstreth, chief marketing and strategy officer of NYC agency CBX says brands should instead, be turning their focus towards leading conversations with clients, rather than banging their own award-winning branding drum.

“As a brand – whether you’re a brand agency or a brand itself – the challenge is no longer about posting messages to people or just talking at them. You really have to think about how you’re cultivating a community, identifying your community – the tribe, so to speak – of people who you want to connect with.” 

Longstreth believes in the power of conversation to build not only content but also culture – a community of collective intelligence – where conversations about brand experience can in fact deliver brand experience. 

A growing number of companies who exist at the intersection of strategy and creativity, are embracing this new approach of Conversational Leadership: “Rather than solely presenting their creative work or latest whitepapers, these firms are developing a variety of conversations through which they can meet, engage, interview, and challenge the industry via an eclectic exchange of ideas.” – Chuck Kent, Brandingmag

Conversations help us connect and understand one another: why rely on the thoughts of a few, when we can tap into the intelligence of many?

An epiphany shared many years ago by Bob Veazie, after experiencing his first World Café dialogue: “Are we using the intelligence of just a few people when we could gain the intelligence of hundreds or thousands, by focusing on key questions and including people more intentionally in the conversation?”

The right conversation can be a catalyst for change.  Inquiry is a huge motivator to unleash creative potential. Conversational leadership invites curiosity – and curiosity sparks ideas. 

“Something fundamental changes when people begin to ask questions together. The questions create more of a learning conversation than the normal stale debate about problems.” says Mike Szymanczyk, Chairman and CEO, The Altria Group in an article published by The Systems Thinker.

Conversational marketing is one-way businesses are undertaking these types of conversations.  Using the power of machines – called Chatbots – to create unique, dialogue-driven, personalised interactions, businesses hope to engage with consumers to scale customer service and provide online personalisation.

However, they are a poor substitute for human interaction with over 73% of consumers admitting they would never reuse a Chatbot following a negative experience.  

“When it’s all stripped away, a conversation is all that remains. If your Chatbots aren’t up to par, they could cost you dearly.” says Monica Eaton-Cardone in an article for VentureBeat.

This still raises the question of human interaction – or lack thereof – in our ever-progressive march forward. 

Can AI really replicate the relational vitality of human dialogue?

In his book, The Magic of Dialogue, the late Daniel Yakelovich describes its power: “[Dialogue] is physical, it’s visceral, it’s instinctive. We reach out to one another. We try to connect with one another. The frustration of modern life is that there are these obstacles. Life is full of impersonal transactions. But we’re hungry for relationships.”

Longstreth suggests “creating and engaging in dialogue is the best form of business today.” An opinion shared by Alan Webber, founder of Fast Company who said: “In the knowledge economy, conversations are the most important work.”

The article goes on to define conversational leadership as a belief in the possibility of collective intelligence – a recognition and appreciation that we can be smarter, more creative and more capable together rather than alone.

This is not a new experience. Humanity has been practising the art of conversation – and intelligence gathering – since the dawn of time.

As evolutionary biologist Humberto Maturana points out, “Since our earliest ancestors gathered in circles around the warmth of a fire, talking together has been our primary means for discovering common interests, sharing knowledge, imagining the future, and cooperating to survive and thrive. The natural cross-pollination of relationships, ideas, and meaning as people move from one conversation to others enables us to learn, explore possibilities, and co-create together.”

Story-telling has for generations been the cohesive thread that weaves together facts and emotions.  Longstreth advocates in its favour: “We’re more interested in the specifics of how somebody accomplished a goal, of how they struggled to get through. I think that learning of someone’s own personal experiences, versus hearing platitudes as marketing messages, is more valuable to the audience that we look to cultivate.”

By designing, stimulating and leading conversations that matter – essentially creating communities of content and culture – companies can grow their collaboration, innovation and success.

Conversational leadership is an exploration into understanding, into connection and into community. It’s the evoking of an ancient art. A return to humanity of sorts: less business-to-business or business-to-consumer, more human-to-human.

After all, as Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.”

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