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Quantity vs quality in Conversations: Knowing the Difference

Quantity vs quality in Conversations: Knowing the Difference

How long has it been since you’ve had a really good conversation? One that you walked away from saying, “I feel good. Not just about me, or the person I was just talking to, but in general. Maybe even about my work, my life”? Most conversations are passing, fleeting words that may not really be sinking in, as the majority of our messages are not even received correctly. For example, research says that at least 55% of messages sent by text that use an emoji are perceived incorrectly. How do we manage to have so many conversations – and not say anything at all?

What drives us to have an actually good conversation?

I’ll ask the question in a different way – what drives us not to have a conversation like that? How many of the conversations that you typically have in the day do you feel you didn’t get the message across, you are wary of the results, or , maybe even worst of all, you got nothing out of it at all? You’re indifferent to the entire conversation (and maybe the person too)?

This is a “quantity vs quality” conversation argument. Many people go through their daily conversations with somewhat reckless abandon. “I need to get this across, I don’t know or really care what the other person is thinking”. Or they don’t even have the conversation at all. I will honestly admit, I also do this at times… I enjoy talking, having conversation, both talking and hearing what others have to say. I’m curious. I want to know more. Sometimes, however, I barely ask the question and the other person has started to respond when I’m already ready to move on to the next question (whether I’m bored with the answer already, or think I know what they are going to say… honestly probably a bit of both). This is a situation of quantity conversation but no quality time in the conversation.

Another example – what about people you spend a LOT of time with – peers or employees at work, those you live with at home – and you barely spend a few minutes really talking to them each day? You may spend 2-3 hours with them (in a meeting, in the living room, etc) – and yet you are on your computer, your phone, and you really only co-exist nearby. You have no idea what’s really going on because you actually don’t even say enough to them. You have quantity time in the room, but no quality conversations.

Why do we do this? Perhaps it is because we:

  • get used to our routines
  • don’t think we have much to say
  • think we’ve said it all
  • have stopped investing in the relationship

The last one is the big one. As time goes on, we forget how important those relationships are, and let them just… carry on without us. When is the last time you’ve had a genuine conversation with your boss on where you really want to go, what you want to do in your role, your career or for the team? When is the last time you’ve had a 30-minute direct and uninterrupted conversation with your best friend, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, sibling, parent?

Relationships are like plants: you can’t just water it once and be done. Just because you’re together (in the relationship, in the company) doesn’t mean your connection is fine. It takes effort. It takes constant quality conversation to maintain that relationship.

Your homework is this. Pick 2-3 people that you have important relationships with (as suggested above) and have at least a 30 min quality conversation with them in the next week. See how it feels. And then do it again. Start making it a habit to have more quality conversations. You’ll see the difference immediately.