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28/03/2020 The magazine by Communication Science students of the UvA

The Power of Conversations

Face-to-face communication in the digital age: Have we forgotten how to do it? Margarete tells us how to navigate a real-life conversation.


Communicating is a part of our everyday life. We talk to people for several hours each day; texting, writing emails, calling, face-timing. The list goes on and on, and it emphasizes the point that most of our conversations these days occur online. So, when was the last time we actually had a real face-to-face conversation? A conversation that went beyond the point of us being confident what to talk about?

With evolving technologies, talking to people online becomes more convenient, faster and way easier than making the effort to meet up with a person in real life. There is so much freedom to talk to someone through the screen of a technological device and taking all the time in the world to answer the person that just texted. There is no forced expectancy of an immediate response. Whether we answer two hours later, or two days later, it does not really matter. If the conversation stops, we have the power to answer and continue it whenever we feel like and have the time to do so.

Additionally, it is way harder to identify non-verbal cues or the tone of voice of the message we just received. Was it meant to be read in a sarcastic, ironic, funny or serious way? If we would have had a real face-to-face conversation, we would have been able to see the facial expressions and body language of the person sending the message. Now, we can only answer to the words on our screen with our best guess to what the person really meant.

How to master real life conversations
What would it feel like to meet up again in real life? Have a conversation with a real human being, not mediated by an electronic device? This does not provide us with the power of only sending messages, but also reminds us that we need to listen to the other person as well. Communication has always consisted of sending messages on one side and receiving these messages on the other. It is just that we keep forgetting to listen and instead we put more emphasis on sending messages.

Celeste Headlee reminded us with her Tedx Talk in 2015 that it is equally important to listen as to send messages and gave us some useful tips to have better conversations in real life:

Be in the moment
Do not think about your next meal, finishing the assignment or sending that important email. We need to determine a time to just listen and talk. We need to be present in the moment and pay attention to what the other person is saying. Only then, can we be true listeners and become more open about what the other person is saying.

We should be open to learn
Every time we enter a conversation, we should have the expectation to learn something new. We live in a fast-moving world where the news from today will be forgotten yesterday, but everyone – as Celeste Headlee put it – is a master in something. So, next time we talk to each other we should be ready to learn something we did not know before.

Go with the flow
When we listen, thoughts and situations will inevitably come to our minds. Sometimes so prevalent that we really want to get them out, but then the conversation turns and our thoughts do not seem relevant anymore. Let them come and let them go. We should not hold on to them and forget following the conversation. More importantly, we should pay attention to what the other person is telling us.

They are interested in us and who we are

Their experience is not ours
This is especially important for very personal and sensitive topics such as death, heartbreak and stress. We are all individuals with unique perceptions and feelings, so we should not equate them. It is about the person who is talking and not about us. Their experience is different from our own.

Leave the details out
The people we talk to are not interested in every single fact of a story we tell them. They are interested in us and who we are. So next time we are in a conversation we should tell the most important things and leave out all the unnecessary details to keep them interested.

Celeste Headlee mentioned many more tips to master real life conversations but made one point clear: sometimes we need to remind ourselves to pay attention and keep listening. We need to get out of our comfort zones and let the other person talk to understand what they really mean.

Cover: Snapwire

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