Scott Bayens: The Intimacy of Conversation
August 19, 2017
I'm turning 49 this week and I'm already a dinosaur. I'm quickly becoming one of those grumpy fossils who laments about the way things were: Aspen's late, great local bar scene, how much more pow there was back in the day, and lately, the way we used to talk with one another.
Does anyone really remember how simple, straightforward and refreshing basic chit-chat was before the dawn of email, voicemail, texts and tweets? The technology we rely on today certainly makes communication more immediate and as convenient reaching into our pocket, but at the same time haven't we forgotten something important, something fundamental?
One of my early heroes in the local real estate game, Bob Starodoj, used to say to us in sales meetings when referring to our clients, "Pick up the phone, go have a cup of coffee. Email is not communication." In other words, according to him, there was no substitute for face-to-face interaction. It's an idea that's obviously stayed with me. It's a notion I'm reminded of more often as I watch teenagers, millennials and even friends and colleagues my own age with heads down, ignorant of their surroundings, slaves to the data.
I guess we're all guilty of compulsively waiting for the next byte to download to our screen and our brain, but I would argue that it's equally important to disconnect, regain perspective and put it all on hold from time-to-time.
Now I know you can't put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to this and many other issues related to change and progress, but back to my point, haven't we lost something? We all talk about the iPad and iPhone generation (aka Alphas) and what is and isn't too much screen time. Even the experts disagree. But parents I know tell me privately their teenage children can't even muster a conversation on the phone, much less in person. They would rather text than talk. As a life-long admirer of those with the gift of gab and a penchant for words, that trend concerns me.
My 4-and-a-half-year-old son is a big talker these days (he's his father's son) and yes, he uses an iPad when he comes home from day care, for an hour or so. My wife and I think some downtime is a good thing but also have discussed how important it is to teach him to look people in the eye and be confident and assertive. Recently he's even started to introduce us to new friends. He's a hoot and he makes us very proud. We figure if we can keep those habits top-of-mind for him through the coming years as well as interest in other activities, he'll have an extraordinary advantage over children that were literally left to their devices.
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Let's face it, we're all on information overload, and always will be. So, it's up to us to unplug, take a deep breath, make eye contact and engage with something or someone other than Facebook. From pedestrians obliviously texting into the crosswalk to a phone call easily ignored but instead answered mid-conversation, it's just inconsiderate and rude. If not checked, we are at anincreasing risk of losing our instinctive ability to recognize facial cues, expressions, emotions, and even a subtle blush or laugh. Today's society is missing something: the intimacy of conversation. There's simply no substitute for looking into another human being's eyes and engaging with another person.
I like to talk and listen. I love discerning the characteristics of a voice, interpreting expressions and forming a first impression intuitively. I find it interesting and engaging. I understand not everyone has this interest or ability. But I do know I want my little boy to develop and tap into those evolutionary instincts. And as good a communicator as I think I am, I have learned there are always inevitable misunderstandings — with my wife, my friends and my colleagues. But I've also found the majority of those miscues tend to be via email, text and even over the phone. In my experience, very few details are missed in person, with eyes on subject and listening rather than talking, except when three fingers of good bourbon are introduced to the mix.
In my opinion, effective communication is crucial to success in life, marriage, child rearing and, specific to this column on local real estate, business. Of course there will always be snafus and miscommunication. Like anything, it takes a lifetime to achieve precision, but those that vow to master it are bound to excel. Just for the record, I'm still learning, but I do aspire to become expert in a skill I fear is in jeopardy of becoming a lost art.
As Craig Morris, a more recent mentor of mine has said: "Two ears, one mouth; there's so much to learn from listening and asking questions." You can't effectively do that with all the fancy gadgets and tech we have at our disposal. They can help, but true connectivity has nothing to do with WiFi. It requires an old-fashioned handshake, a smile, eye contact, observation, comprehension and expertise.
Scott Bayens is a broker/Realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby's International Real Estate with more than a decade of experience with buyers and sellers. He admits to being a A-Type personality multi-tasker who juggles his phone, email and texts but is pretty good about setting it all aside for his family, friends and clients. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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