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
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
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
• 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
• Preparation pays off. Know your audience
and be prepared with small talk to fill in those
awkward silences or opportunities to connect with
• Visit MSNBC.com or CNN.com daily. ESPN.com
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 www.DebraFine.com.
Contact information: Stacey J. Miller, Book Publicist,
S. J. Miller Communications, Randolph, MA http://www.bookpr.com,
email: firstname.lastname@example.org , telephone: 781-986-073)