Three Reasons Why Spoken Conversation is Overrated
Today, I’d like to get into some aspects of conversation and why I’ve realized that I prefer the written word over the spoken one, which is how I ended up writing many texts like this one – I just haven’t made any of them public until now.
Being able to present and formulate your ideas and thoughts in a coherent, eloquent and precise manner requires effort, skill and practice. In face-to-face conversation, I’m often not able to convey my thoughts and ideas the way I want to. I thought about why that is and came up with multiple (not so groundbreaking) reasons that don’t include my own shortcomings:
a) Conversation is interactional, and that’s not always a good thing. When you observe two people talking – especially when they’re discussing something they don’t agree on – how often do you notice them “taking turns”? It becomes very obvious once you closely observe the process: Let’s say there’s Person X and Person Y. Person X is talking and at some point they mention a certain buzzword. This buzzword then triggers a response in Person Y, which causes them to tension up and visibly be on the edge until they get to say their response out loud. However, out of good manners Person Y is obligated to let Person X finish, and as a consequence of that they’re not really actively listening anymore but rather trying to keep their response ready in their head so as not to forget it. Once it’s their turn to talk, the process repeats itself as they (Person Y) – in the process of voicing their response – at some point mention a certain buzzword that triggers a response in Person X. This whole thing then results in some sort of ping-pong of responses where neither Person X nor Person Y is really listening to what the other person is saying, but rather is waiting for their turn to hit the ball back over the net.
Okay, great, but this isn’t always the case, right? In the end, many people manage to have civil and productive discussion. What other reasons are there then? Let’s have a look at this next one:
b) There’s a natural time limit on conversations. I’m sure everyone has experienced this: When you’re talking about more complex topics (and really, pretty much any topic can be complex if you want it to be) there’s no way of finishing the discussion within that natural time limit. In everyday life, most conversations stretch to maybe ten, twenty minutes, in some cases an hour. Think lunch breaks, incidentally crossing friends on the street or in the supermarket, conversations at parties and so on. There are some rare occasions where you might go on a full-day hike with somebody where you get something like six hours of talking to them (assuming that you’re in shape and can manage to hold a full conversation while walking uphill), but let’s be honest, that’s pretty rare.
But there’s even more to this! Here goes my third point:
c) You can’t disregard that a huge portion of a discussion or conversation with another person will be spent on various topics, not just one – whether it’s how their mother is doing, how their studies are going, how their work sucks, what they’ve done last weekend, and so on. This comes down to the (not so mindblowing) fact that people have different expectations going into a conversation and most of the time want to talk about themselves, their problems and their interests – this obviously goes for me too, so no judgment here.
Okay, I’ve now listed all these so-called reasons why spoken conversation has its downsides – but what‘s the alternative?
My conclusion is that conversation in real life, using spoken words, under a time limit, with a (potentially) on-the-edge conversation partner who has his own agenda is just not the optimal way of conveying ideas and thoughts, at least not regarding the more complex topics of discussion. This brings me to why I really like books and websites like Medium: There (respectively here), the author is able to thoughtfully structure and write down whatever they had in mind without feeling like time is about to run out on them, or that the other person – in this case the reader – wasn’t listening or paying attention because they were waiting for their turn to respond. Last but not least, the author gets to talk about their own interests without having to listen to what the other person’s dog did to the neighbour’s cat the other day first. At the same time, you as the “other person”, the reader, get to respond anytime you want, without the flow of conversation taking a hit, because what’s written in that book or online story will stay there no matter what you fire back at it. Isn’t that great? However, this obviously also has its limitations: Not everyone can and wants to write a book or story about what their thoughts are on each matter that concerns them – there’s many reasons why, I’m sure you can come up with some of your own. Furthermore, not everyone is able to spend countless hours on reading books or blogposts that some random guy (or friend) has written, because why should they care?
I get that, and either way I’m not saying face-to-face conversation has no use at all. There’s many advantages to it, like getting to see the joy (or anger) of that other person in a more lively, graspable way than through text. Getting to hit that ping-pong ball back to the other side right on the spot also has its upsides, because people sometimes tend to go down a rabbit hole and lose themselves in pointless arguments (much like myself in this text), which could be prevented by stopping them right at the very beginning and saving everybody a lot of frustration. Nonetheless, I feel like written word is a way – for me especially – to express thoughts without having to think of the disadvantages I listed earlier. And in my case, my conversation partners – in this very case you guys – get to fire back at me all you want, taking all the time you want, whenever you want! Please do, but only in written word.