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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Can we talk?

Updated: Dec 4, 2022

A couple is deep in conversation at a coffee shop

Can you recall your last heart-to-heart conversation?

In today’s world of instant messaging, texting, email, and social media, have we lost the art of having honest-to-goodness, face-to-face conversations? We may appear more connected than ever before, but are we truly connected?

Are there benefits to in-person communication that cannot be found screen-to-screen?

You may have read or heard the story of a young child answering the question of what they would like to become and answering, “A phone, so my parents would pay attention to me.” If that doesn’t make you sad, you can stop reading now.

Chapter 19 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide covers the topic of facilitated discussions, including many principles and strategies we could apply to improve our everyday conversations.

First, the benefits of facilitated discussions as a form of communication are similar to the benefits of a great conversation – building community and deepening relationships, generating and sharing ideas, problem-solving leading to action, and engaging all parties fully and equally.

What contributes to meaningful conversation?

A facilitated discussion and a good conversation are both entered into intentionally, although the first is likely to be more planned and structured. Both begin with introductions if needed, and a time to build trust and rapport.

A planned discussion may incorporate an ice-breaker to accomplish this. In a conversation, good old-fashioned small talk usually does the trick. The more familiar conversation partners are with one another, the faster deep conversation can occur.

An effective facilitator or effective conversationalist is a good listener. They ask good questions and demonstrate an active interest in others, allowing them to do most of the talking. Body language is open, eye contact is comfortable, and verbal prompts encourage continued sharing.

Why is in-person conversation better than via technology?

When communication takes place in person, body language provides feedback and enhances understanding. Face-to-face communication results in higher degrees of trust. Trust promotes speaker credibility and acceptance of ideas.

Recent research reported in Computers in Human Behavior (1) found “in-person interactions are characterized by better psychological and interpersonal outcomes than technology-mediated interactions.” The researchers attribute this to the presence of multiple modes of communication including nonverbal forms of expression.

Research shows that we are much more persuasive in the flesh than digitally. A study (2) performed at Western University and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that requests made in person were 34 times more effective than requests sent via email.

Studies indicate that when comparing younger with older adults, those aged 18-24 prefer online communication or social media for “talking” with people they don’t already know, whereas those over 55 are more comfortable talking in person. (3) College-age adults are also highly likely to use mobile devices while in the presence of others, even when aware of the potential negative effect on face-to-face communication. (4)

Technology is here to stay. Use it appropriately to convey information conveniently, concisely, and thoughtfully (proofread before hitting send). Don’t allow it to take the place of all in-person conversations. Promote talking over texting. Encourage the art of conversation.

Are you curious how you miscommunicate most often - whether in person or via technology? Take the free quiz - click the button on the home page. Get solutions to communicate more effectively.

“Nothing trumps good conversation.” ~ Rich Eisen

1. Sadikaj G, Moskowitz DS. I hear but I don’t see you: Interacting over phone reduces the accuracy of perceiving affiliation in the other. Computers in Human Behavior. 2018 (89): 140-147.

2. Roghanizad MM, Bohns VK. Ask in person: You’re less persuasive than you think over email. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 2017 (69): 223-226.

This post first appeared in January 2019 and has been updated.

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