Shorthand Communication Leaves You Shorthanded
By Debra Fine

A summer of constant instant messaging, “face book” postings, and email often leaves the returning college student or entry-level employee lacking in the art of face-to-face conversation skills. Although helpful and necessary tools in today’s education and business worlds, these technological advances in communication have made Generations X and Y so reliant on them that verbal and nonverbal skills may be in danger. Is the extinction of the art of conversation far off?

You Can’t Type a Smile
Once you’ve become accustomed to typing “ttyl” and “lol,” it can be daunting to have to carry on a discussion with your immediate supervisor or meet with an admissions counselor. Generations X and Y may find themselves in the habit of employing poor vocabulary and grammar as expectations vary widely between less formal electronic communication and more formal spoken language.
Nonverbal skills also become compromised as a result of a lack of face-to-face interaction. For some people, 90 percent of communication with their boss is via email. People have memorized the keys on their Blackberry, but they can’t tell you the color of their boss’s eyes. This lack of face time leads to difficulties in reading body language and interpreting verbal messages. When it comes to time for a face-to-face job evaluation or review, young people will likely have a difficult time “reading” their boss’s verbal and nonverbal language, which can make for some awkward, if not damaging, exchanges. Whatever rapport you might establish with an electronic interlocutor can elude you in a real, one-on-one meeting.

Hope Is Not Lost
Although many in Generation X and Y are lacking in the art of communication, the following are some simple tips that can help improve spoken communicative competencies:
• Use names and use them correctly. Emails and text messaging go back and forth without any type of salutation. Using someone’s name in conversation makes them feel special as long as it is done in a genuine fashion.
• Listen carefully for information that can keep the conversation going. If your department head mentions his family vacation this past summer, ask him to elaborate on it. Solicit details about the concert your professor enjoyed so much.
• Be aware of your body language. Look like you are paying attention and interested in what is being said. At the same time, be aware of the body language of others. Often, how someone says something is just as important as what is said.
• Make eye contact and smile. An old joke goes something like this: “What is the difference between an extroverted engineer and an introverted engineer?” The answer: “An extroverted engineer looks at the other person’s shoes instead of his own!”
• Play the conversation “game.” When someone asks, “How was your summer?” or “What’s going on?” answer with more than “Pretty good” or “Not much.” Tell more about yourself so that others can learn more about you. One sentence replies such as, “My summer was great. I got in some golf which I had no time for the past few years” allows others to keep the conversation ball going. Remember, any game takes two. Be sure to ask your conversational partner questions that require more than a simple answer. This way you can keep the conversational ball rolling.
• Be careful with business and school acquaintances. You wouldn't want to open a conversation with a question such as, “How did you do on your Bar exam” only to find out that she failed for the second time. Be careful when you’re asking about an acquaintance’s spouse or special friend; you could regret it.
• Don’t act like you’re an FBI agent. Questions like: “What do you do?” “Are you married?” “Do you have children?” and “Where are you from?” lead to dead-end conversations. Instead, use open-ended questions such as: “Tell me about your history with the company” or “What do you miss the most about the East Coast? Why?”
• Show an interest in your conversational partner’s opinion. You’re not the only person who has opinions about the war in Iraq, Mac vs. PC, or whether Internet poker sites should be banned.
• Preparation pays off. Know your audience and be prepared with small talk to fill in those awkward silences or opportunities to connect with others.
• Visit or daily. and the local newspaper would not hurt either.
When you’re talking on the phone with young people, your frustration level may rise each time you hear the “ding” of the instant messenger program that forces you to repeat yourself because your conversational partner is busy multi-tasking. Young people are accustomed to this fragmented, truncated conversational style, but we are not. No matter how many technological advances lie ahead, young people still have to deal with the older generation at work and at home. At least for the time being.
(Debra Fine is a nationally recognized speaker, expert on conversational skills and author of The Fine Art of Small Talk (Hyperion 2005). For additional information, view Debra’s website at
Contact information: Stacey J. Miller, Book Publicist, S. J. Miller Communications, Randolph, MA, email: , telephone: 781-986-073)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.