The Art of the Conversation – are we losing it?

By Dr Maggie Haertsch

The Art of the Conversation seems to have become a lost art. Workshops, conferences and even regular classes are now popular, as we increasingly struggle to converse on a basic level. It’s fascinating to question what happened generationally to spark such a need. Have we lost our ability to truly connect with others in how we use our words, pay attention to our body language and nuance all the attributes to responsive communication?

In aged services, particularly in residential care, the resident can be subjected to many repeating questions and comments on a daily basis. Busy carers and nurses generally don’t converse. They ask, “how are you”, “can I do …” this and that task, or specific questions like “have you opened your bowels”, “what meal would you like today?” Yet conversations that engage people better build a connection and a deeper understanding of not only others around us but of ourselves.

The industry advocates for a person-centred approach, yet consistently staff do not know the resident, the person who is having that shower or taking that medication. It’s striking how little carers know the background, the aspirations and the issues that a resident may be going through. A simple conversation with genuine interest and the right questions can provide valuable insight to improve the resident’s experience.

Being able to have a meaningful conversation is not just good for understanding the resident’s experience but it is good for us all in life. It can curb loneliness, social isolation and reduce anxiety – all of which are rising issues. 

So how do we have a meaningful conversation? It’s quite simple. Firstly don’t start if you don’t have time to listen. Ensure the conditions are right – that time and the environment are relaxed, without too much noise or distractions. Secondly, think of your questions – make them meaningful and ones you genuinely find interesting. Start with simple questions before diving deep into more complex or personal questions.

Thirdly, listen! Listen without distractions – with an open mind and a open heart. Free yourself of any agenda where you think you already know the answer. Fourthly, think of your body language. Avoid crossing arms, looking distracted and be attentive. If the person feels you are not interested they are likely to not be willing to fully participate in the conversation.

Conversations connect us. Give it a go with a clear intention of learning something about the person and it will be enriching for you both.

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