In a growing clamor for virtual over real, taking a contrarian view, Ritu Kant Ojha, Author of the self-help book, Real Conversations in Digital Age talks to Everything Experiential about his book and why we need to get back to face-to-face conversations.
We are forgetting the power of conversations in the times of social media and smartphone texting. And it is impacting government institutions, our homes, work and even public places. In a growing clamour for virtual over real, taking a contrarian view, Ritu Kant Ojha, Author of upcoming self-help book, Real Conversations in Digital Age talks to Everything Experiential about his book and why we need to get back to face-to-face conversations.
An IIM Lucknow alumnus, Ojha calls himself a storyteller and is a firm believer in the power of narrative. He has dedicated his life to reviving the lost art of conversations. A seasoned business journalist, keynote speaker, master NLP master practitioner, corporate trainer, and an international affiliate of American Psychological Association, he comes with nearly 2 decades of experience.
Why don’t you take us through your journey of becoming an author?
It was in 2017 that I was sitting in a cafe’ waiting for a client when I observed almost no one was talking to each other. There were 39 people I counted. Everyone was staring at screens of laptops of phones. While I had been observing this trend for years but this was a cafe where you usually meet your friends over coffee for conversations.
Was this the trigger for your book?
It set me on the path of research on the impact of technology on human relationships. I started reading books on positive psychology, research papers from Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, MIT etc. on this subject and interviewed about 300 people across different countries. I found that the impact of smartphone addiction on our mind and body is shocking. And people are unaware of it. Smartphones are destroying relationships. World is facing unprecedented levels of loneliness and depression. We tend to avoid physical meetings and keep most of our communications on WhatsApp and chat applications. It is causing major behavioural changes that impacts mental health. And that got me interested in turning the research into a book.
Why is there stress on real conversations in your book? Aren’t all conversations real?
We would have probably laughed at such a title 15 years back. But now the society is disconnected connected – meaning while we feel we are more connected to each other due to the number of friends and followers on social media, but when you look deeper we are all disconnected. Look, texting is not a conversation. During a conversation you can observe the verbal and non-verbal cues of the other person. The body language, eye movements, tone of the voice and even the attention towards what you are speaking contributes towards the quality of a conversation. You can look at a person’s expression, can feel empathy, can figure out if the other person is even interested in your conversation or not. While on the other hand you could be texting to 20 people at the same time. Where is the connect? One of the research shows that the mere presence of mobile can impact the quality of a face-to-face conversation. Imagine when the majority of our communication is happening just through smartphones, how much it would impact the relationships over time.
How do you see real conversations in today’s chaotic scenario?
You look at the discussion and debates on social media today. People are fighting with their relatives, colleagues, friends, even their childhood friends whom they have grown up with. Do you know what is interesting? The same people would never fight so much when they are face-to-face. It happens because platforms like Facebook bucket their users into echo chambers based on their posts, and that is the reason why you see only the same people you debate or engage with, again and again despite having hundreds of Facebook friends. It is their algorithm. Interestingly, even if you unfriend some of these, the new people that show up will be of similar views. You cannot escape the echo chamber, and that is what artificial intelligence built by the best brains in the world have done.
Is there a remedy you suggest in your book?
First of all we need to realise that there indeed is a problem. And then we need to take a step back and look at how much time we are spending staring at screens. My research showed people are staring at 15 to 16 hours at screens, meaning thereby, except while sleeping, they are always looking at screens. It is akin to an addiction to gambling wherein after some time you want to be in the game for the kick you get through dopamine rush and not so much for winning the game. We need to cut down on that. Second, we need to look at reclaiming relationships seriously. Almost of us have spoiled relationships on social media. Reach out to people and create an occasion for physical meetings. When not possible, speak on the phone. Reduce chatting to a bare minimum. And finally, do a real conversations analysis.
What is a real conversation analysis?
The last chapter of the book contains a questionnaire that sensitises you towards the face-to-face conversations that you remember from childhood, school, workplace and even as a tourist. It includes questions like what are your icebreakers in various situations, which thought chokes your conversations, analysis of your stuck-state during conversations and then your game-plan to have real conversations. As a society, we are forgetting the power of talk. We do not know who our neighbours are, we rarely speak to the next door shopkeeper beyond what is a bare minimum, we do not express gratitude, and even when in an elevator we pull out our phones to escape greeting the other person and so on. We are humans and not robots.
Is it relevant for businesses as well? How do you plan to spread the message?
Absolutely relevant for the businesses. And I am working closely with some of them to improve the conversation quotient in their organisations. Marketing departments have to think beyond digital. We need to humanise technology and think of ways to bring-in human intervention in both pre-sales and post-sales process. The sales team needs to be better equipped to negotiate and ensure repeat sales using empathy and conversation skills. The whole world is going crazy about communicating digitally. The real deals rarely happen over a WhatsApp chat. Training sales force into using positive body language, helping them develop better listening skills, and improving the ability to engage a customer in conversation should be a priority item for every business. A whole army of young managers is getting ready, which lacks conversation skills. And it is going to impact businesses severely.
A corporate cannot achieve team-bonding just through company apps. There has to be human connect, and organisations need to find ways to do it. A core focus of real conversations training workshops is on moving from pessimism to optimism. Research after research proves pessimism impacts productivity. Moreover, the lack of human connect is causing loneliness. It is becoming such a serious issue that in the UK there is a separate ministry to deal with loneliness. Several countries are actively working on dealing with the impact of social media on society. And corporate employees are part of the same community.
You recently signed a strategic partnership with SP Jain School of Global Management. Tell us more about that.
SP Jain has been the pioneer in innovative management education and has emerged as an institution of massive reputation globally. A partnership with the institute of such high repute adds to our credibility immensely. The real conversations methodology by WIYLD fits-in perfectly with the way SP Jain Global looks at delivering immersive and experiential learning to its students and corporate participants. In each of the cities, students participate in structured global immersion activities that expose them to regional business practices, political beliefs and cultures. In Sydney, for instance, students visit the Sydney Opera House and the Museum of Contemporary Art to understand the various aspects of western art. During their stay in Dubai, students visit the Burj Khalifa to understand the planning that went behind its construction. In Singapore, they go on back office tours of the world’s most expensive and standalone casino in the Marina Bay Sands to observe and study its revenue model.
As their strategic partners, we would work closely with the senior management to develop, deliver and market the global immersion programs with a focus on real conversations. This includes training students and corporate participants on the positive impact of face-to-face conversations, and the nuances of it.
This article was first published in The Business world Here.