Before I begin the long form version of what I want to say, here’s the ‘Tweet’ Version of this post (stay with me, there’s a reason):

Your intention matters. It can make all the difference in you being in a meaningful conversation or bitterly disappointed, or disappointing.

(Total character count 140)… ok, now on with the post.

I’m pretty concerned right now about where the art of dialogue is heading.

What’s prompted this post is a meeting I had yesterday with a long term colleague and friend, who had invited one of his business colleagues along so that we could meet and explore potential business opportunities together.

One of the best guides I’ve learned that explains what dialogue really is has been developed by the team at Vital Smarts who are the authors of amongst other books, The Balancing Act and Crucial Conversations.

Intentional Dialogue

Put simply, they explain that dialogue starts with mutual purpose, is maintained through mutual respect, and is achieved through mutual disclosure and understanding.

This has become my guide to keeping me in check with my intention to have meaningful dialogue of mutual benefit to people I am in conversation with.

Despite my best intentions, and even applying what I reckon was relatively good dialogue skills, I found myself in a series of monologues rather than a dialogue.

Without going into detail, it basically came down to this other person being interested in what he had to say, however, whenever my friend or I were speaking, it was pretty obvious he wasn’t listening and he was just waiting for his next chance to speak.

Now you might want to jump to the conclusion that maybe it was because my friend and I were just not interesting or engaging.

Attention Span and Intention

But what was really going on was this person’s incredibly short attention span… and this is what I reckon is a warning signal of how dialogue is at risk.

We are living in a world where short form communicating is becoming the norm. We text, tweet or just push the “Like” button (mostly not knowing what that really means anyway). We flick, in a continual spiral of inertia, though the ever growing number of free to air channels on our TV sets (even more with pay TV) in the hope to see if something else is on that might be interesting. We speed read through our email in box, sometimes checking and rechecking just in case something important ever arrives. If we’re on our game we might even do something immediately with the email, decide when, diarise, delegate or dump it (and that’s on a good day). We check who’s up to what on LinkedIn, and for many of us we’re trying to work out why we’re LinkedIn and what value there is to it at all anyway. A quick squiz at the Facebook updates or our other social media world touch points…

Do you get the picture?

So it’s no wonder really that when we actually do have the opportunity for a face to face conversation with a real person, that the art of dialogue is under threat.

Are you consciously and intentionally in the moment?

Just the other day, a friend of my eldest son asked me for some friendly advice on whether she should get a car loan. I had started to answer when I realised that she was not listening, had no eye contact with me at all because she was responding to a text message, or facebook update on her mobile phone… when I called her on it, she apologised, and then as I started again with my advice, she got distracted by what was on TV.

OK… maybe it is me – I’m boring!

So let me get to the point… (no, not the tweet version just yet).

The conversations we have with our friends, family, colleagues, clients or whoever – they all matter. Our conversations and the value we create and receive through our conversations are one of the things that defines the human experience.

Unless we are consciously aware of our intentions when we are about to enter into our conversations with others, our reason, purpose, goal – our intentions for ourselves and for the other people with whom we are conversing, we can very easily become disengaged or disengaging in the way we communicate.

If we are disengaged or distracted and not focusing in on the other person, we certainly don’t have a mutual purpose, we aren’t displaying mutual respect, and there’s very little chance of mutual disclosure or understanding.

In other words, we’re not in dialogue – we are in a series of monologues at best, and more than likely doing serious damage to the levels of trust we are ideally trying to build with the people we are conversing with.

Keep the tweets and the other distractions for your cyber world – when you’re face to face in the real world with real people, intention matters.

People get your truth. Over time, your intentions, actions and results will either promote or expose you.

If you’re still reading, well done – let me know what you think (and you don’t have to keep it short).