Reclaiming real conversations amidst digital noise

A conference organised by WIYLD at The Lalit, Delhi on Friday, discussed the adverse impacts of not talking to each other in-person.


Thanks to smart phones, we find ways around conversations. We turn to our phones instead of each other and readily admit we would rather send a WhatsApp message or email, than commit to a face-to-face meeting, or even a phone call. This behavioural change is impacting both workplaces as well as personal lives. 'Real Conversations in Digital Age', a conference organised by WIYLD at The Lalit, Delhi on Friday, discussed the adverse impacts of not talking to each other in-person. 

The speakers included veterans from the corporate world, senior journalists, clinical psychologists, and thought leaders from brand and marketing space. In a consensus that is rather rare in today's argumentative world, all speakers agreed that social media is great for positioning and superficial acquaintances. But the real deal happens only when you meet a person. Body language, eye movement, warmth, empathy, or even humour allows a person to  build a deeper relationship that is impossible through a WhatsApp message, Facebook or Instagram post. 

"Striking conversations helped me build meaningful personal and business relationships. On flights, restaurants, events, or even while shopping at malls, I do not mind walking-up to people to say Hi", said Dr Anurag Batra known as youngest media mogul in India and Chairman of BW Businessworld media group. Advising the youth, Dr Batra said, "drop inhibitions and develop your own style of opening-up with strangers. You will be surprised at the positive reciprocation you would get from the other side."

Quantified research shows that globally 75% in the highest-income category find jobs through social connects. In multiple credible research reports across the world, lack of social connections is found worse than smoking, obesity and high blood pressure. Psychologists believe that social isolation can cause early death and believe loneliness is fast becoming an epidemic. Not connecting with people is now proving to have serious health implications and increasing depression. Dr Roma Kumar, a renowned psychologist, and one of the speakers at the event, expressed serious concern at the increasing cases of depression in the society with more and more people reporting loneliness. "People are not just talking enough", she said.

Speaking about the importance of face to face or in person conversations and their power to build long lasting relationships, Ritu Kant Ojha, co-founder & CEO of WIYLD said, smart phones are changing behaviours across age groups. "Social media forces us to put-up a fake face – a rather happy one – where everything around us is perfect. Pictures showing beautiful kids, exotic holidays, fancy dinners and good-looking friends. This forces you to run away from real conversations because you have not been training your mind to face the real life that is actually unfolding outside social-media", said Ojha. 

"Relying on mobile-texting as primary communication mode can make us feel lonely overtime as emotions cannot be expressed through 'emoticons' and one has to be physically present to express, and even feel them", he added.

Emphasising on using stories to deliver a message during conversations, BJP Spokesperson and Advisor to CM of Maharashtra, Shweta Shalini, said, "we need to harness the power of storytelling. To make sure we learn the lessons around  honesty and service to the nation, my father narrated stories when I was a child, and I use the same method with my children to drive the point across." 

Talking about how people are all the time looking at screens, she said, "undivided attention during a conversation is becoming a luxury; constantly checking our phones for the next update on social media, takes away the soul from a conversation."

All panelists at the event agreed that lack of meaningful discussions are impacting businesses across sectors. And CXOs need to drive the change. 

One of the most critical elements of leadership is the leader’s ability to engage in inspiring conversations. If leaders fail to inspire, they fail to lead, said Satyakki Bhattacharjee, a thought leader in organisational development and Founder of Growthsqapes. Arvind Pandit, Founder & Managing Partner of Ishwa Consulting opined, "leadership is most effective when delivered in-person. Hence its imperative for leaders to spend more face-time with their teams to maximise business results."

Talking about importance of conversation skills, Subhrangshu Neogi, a senior business leader said, "Conversations are the heart and soul of any organisation. Be it engaging meaningfully with your internal stakeholders or consumers, quality conversations will always determine quality and desired outcomes. Encouraging, fostering this art and skill is therefore a must-do across levels and functions of any organisation irrespective of its size, scale and stage of evolution." 

A 80 year continuous study by Harvard found relationships, more than money or fame, keep people happy throughout their lives. The experts on the panel suggested, the only way to build meaningful relationships is through genuine discussion.

Punit Modhgil, ex-Director Marketing, Microsoft India and now an activist marketer said, "Technology has changed lives but it needs to be used sensitively. While mobile is disrupting the way we communicate, it is also disrupting the way we converse, and as a result impacting relationships adversely. It will eventually impact the brands as well."

According to a recent report by Deloitte, emotional attachment takes over as a relationship progresses, making rational considerations less and less important. Brands can build impressive levels of customer loyalty by connecting emotionally with their audiences, mentions report.

Answering a question from a college student, Mohit Gupta, chief curator & Founder, City Book Leaders, said, "For human beings, books have a been a medium of soulful and meaningful stories and conversations. Choose books over 'Facebooks' of the world and listen to people who read books; use ‘Shruti’ as mentioned in Vedas for true connect."

Quality of conversations have direct impact on our energy levels. Dr Sushil Kumar, a professor at IIM Lucknow on change management and business sustainability said, "teaching a class of students that interacts and engages, fills you with positive energy that lasts for whole day. We miss it while delivering a satellite (online) education program." Talking about the changing trends in students' behaviour, Dr Kumar said, "students now focus more on getting a good grade than absorbing the knowledge being imparted."

A survey of 5000 people in America found that the number of Americans with no close friends has tripled since 1985. “Zero” is the most common number of confidants, reported by almost a quarter of those surveyed.

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