The words communication and conversation are often used interchangeably. Usually that is fine. Sometimes it isn’t. It isn’t okay when the outcomes of what we intend when we say “conversation” or “communication” are not the same, but we go ahead and use those words as if they are equally applicable.
If the organizational problem involves failure of information sharing, that is a problem with communication. If the organizational challenge involves a lack of mutual understanding, empathy or relationships, that is a problem with conversation.
Communication in this context is the exchange of information as data, which is a technical, technological or process related issue. Here, information is a commodity that needs to be transacted. Solutions to communication failure typically reside in mechanical, inanimate concepts or systems, even if they may require behavior shifts in people. Changing approaches in how communication happens, although with some difficulties, can be identified, altered and evaluated comparatively easily.
Conversation, by contrast, is significantly more nebulous, elusive and demanding of patience and commitment. It is a fundamentally human activity. Through conversation we can flex our empathy muscles, develop self-awareness, catalyze creativity and nurture relationships. Intrinsic human motivations, such as a desire to belong and to engage in activities that have a meaning beyond ourselves, are not stirred by communication; they are energized with conversation.
Communication creates a feeling of being included within a social network. Conversation does the hard, long work of actually creating the bonds that make that society. It is tempting to conflate communication and conversation because labeling dysfunctional teams, arrogant and unaware leaders, or static, banal employee cultures as a communication problem suggests it can be remedied swiftly with a few tweaks to an online platform, a new app or a couple of hours of development skills training. But these are challenges based in the human experience. They require conversation. And remedying those challenges in a corporate environment is not as easy as it sounds.
I’d love to talk with you about it. Are you ready to commit to conversation not just communication?
I liked this post! It was an enjoyable read because, though I hadn’t thought about it much before, these two words – communication and conversation – probably are used by me fairly interchangeably and, you’re observation is right, they’re not the same. Both are valuable, both are needed; I look forward to considering it more!
Thanks Amy. I agree both interpretations are valuable and necessary. I look forward to hearing your further reflections.