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COLUMN: Are we losing the art of talking in person?

I have had several conversations with my children (ages 18, 19 and 21) in recent years that have, in each instance, left me concerned for the future of communication.

OK, so that might be a bit over the top, but bear with me here. I am concerned.

One of my children will say, “I talked with such and such about thus and so.” After a brief conversation with my child about their conversation with “such and such,” I realize this conversation might not have been a talking conversation.

So I ask, “Did you actually TALK with “such and such” about this?” And the answer is invariably, “No, Mom, we were texting.” Then I say, “So you weren’t talking.”

When did texting become talking? I don’t know exactly, but it’s the way the current generation communicates. They date this way too I don’t get that at all.

As this column focuses on business-related topics, let’s keep our focus where it should be (and all of you with teens who date via text can talk with your children about that!—you even hear of breakups occurring via text).

We see this “lack of talking” in the workplace, too. Coworkers send emails to colleagues, sometimes in adjoining cubicles to their own, instead of getting out of the chair and walking (perhaps) five steps to have a face-to-face conversation with another person.

Many of us are probably guilty of this behavior. It’s easy to send an email, especially since many of us seem to be tethered to our computers or smartphones.

I personally send many emails to have a written confirmation of a decision or to know I can go back and prove that I have shared information with someone. That’s fine to do, but why not have a face-to-face talk about the decision before sending a follow up email?

My concern is that we are losing the ability to talk in person or verbally on a phone! Plus, when we actually talk with people, we typically gain information beyond the topic that caused the conversation.

I have had conversations with my colleagues go in many different directions, and generally I feel the time spent talking is productive. In these conversations I am told that problems exist that, without the conversation that day, might have not surfaced for days, weeks or months.

If I know there’s a problem, I can work on solving it, so it’s a good thing when I can work on a problem sooner instead of later.

Many of my colleagues do not like to toot their own horns, but in talking with them, many times they’ll share good things that have happened to them (both professionally and personally) or good things they have done. They probably would not have told me the same information in an email.

My challenge to you for the next month or so is to audit your own behavior AND observe the behavior of your coworkers. Do you text instead of talk? Do you email instead of getting up (and you KNOW you need the exercise, such that it is!) and walking down the hall or going to another building to talk with a person?

Lynne Richardson is the dean of the University of Mary Washington’s School of Business and a marketing professor. She writes about various aspects of finance and economics that affect our readers. Send suggestions for future topics to