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If I can Communicate, why can’t I “Conversate”?


Why is it we talk so much about Communication skills and not so much about Conversation skills? Think about when searching for “what makes an effective leader” or “top tips for successful hiring” or “effective business skills”, to name just a few. The results for “Communication” win hands down over “Conversation”.

The dictionary[1] defines Communication as “the imparting or exchanging of information or news” or “a letter or message containing such information or news”.

(Latin: communicari)

The same dictionary defines Conversation as: “the informal exchange of information, ideas by spoken words”.

(Latin: conversari)

Granted, the main difference between the two is that conversations tend to be more informal, social and in the spoken word, as opposed to a message or email containing the communication. I also tend to think of “communication” as one-directional instead of a “two-way” or engaging conversation. We only have to look at Hitler’s powers of communication, or Mussolini’s Manifesto, to know that feedback on these communications certainly were not welcome, nor advisable.

Perhaps it is because my mother tongue is not English, that I find the way the nouns Communication and Conversation are used in day-to-day language, intriguing and actually quite illogical. In a job interview review we may hear “She doesn’t communicate very well”. You never hear, “He doesn’t conversate well”! You could hear “She communicated badly”, but definitely not “He conversated badly”.

In the English speaking business culture, we value communication skills more highly and conversation skills generally speaking don’t get a look in. The catchphrase in many communication programs “active listening skills” is taught as a vital concept to improve your communication skills. Yet conversation has this skill imbedded in its inherent meaning of the word. You can not “conversate” if you don’t actively listen to what the other person has to say, it would quickly bring an end to the conversation!

So, why don’t we have more “Conversations” in our workplace? Is it because of its “clumsiness” in conjugation that people use the word less often?

Conversations can be just as effective, if often not more effective, than Communications. Consider “a conversation for possibility” in your next meeting with your boss and if the idea progresses well, accelerate into “a conversation for opportunity” or “a conversation for action”. Don’t you agree, conversations skills offer you a far greater choice of nuances than communication skills (simply by being “two-way and engaging”)?

I think I even may dare to go as far as saying “by increasing the importance of Conversation skills over Communication skills into the work place and at home, the social skill sets of people will improve”.

So, let’s conversate further on this possibility!

p.s. the author does know that in fact “Conversate” is not a real word, and that the correct verb is “Converse”, but hey, are we now talking about a brand of sneakers? J

[1] The Oxford American dictionary




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