Do you practise conversation hygiene?

I was introduced to this expression “conversation hygiene” by someone who is not a first language English speaker. Once I heard the words, they stuck in my head and I realised how perfect they were to describe many of the situations we all see and hear on a daily basis. Some of us don’t practise any sort of conversation hygiene at even a most basic level, and many not at all.

Hygiene is defined as:

Conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease, especially through cleanliness.

So  in terms of conversation hygiene, for the word “health” substitute “mental health”,  and for “disease” add “stress and discomfort. Although they are not soap and water instances, some can be pretty close. It has the same impact on your auditory space as bad breath and body odour have on your olfactory senses. We don’t like to be around people who smell. People who have personal hygiene problems are usually glad to be told and yet we frequently don’t tell people when they don’t carry out conversation hygiene. Why is that?

8 examples of conversation hygiene

Do any of these sound familiar?

#1 Abusers

Of course this is familiar. I’ve heard these people on a number of occasions in the last few days. On a train, in a restaurant and in a shop. Yes I do give a f*****ing  $*µ#! I have no problem people complaining – more should, but loud aggression directed at some junior employee, who possibly doesn’t understand them, is not going to help anyone at all.

#2 Dominators

conversation hygiene

Commonly found in meetings the Chair calls for everyone’s view points and then talks over them.  He clearly hasn’t listened to Simon Sinek’s video -“Leaders be the Last to Speak” There’s  no agenda and we go off topic. Nothing is decided. There is no action plan or follow up or through. It is an epic waste of time. Lack of conversation hygiene – big time.

#3 Mega Talkers     

A network encounter talked at me for about 8 minutes, apologised for talking too much, smiled and then left. More time wasted.

#4 The self absorbed 

A man held a conference call via lap top speakers in a public space. This was a major conversation hygiene fail and noise pollution alert.

#5 The self interested  

A woman watched a video in a restaurant with the volume on. it sounded like a sex/slasher and horror flick. Let’s just say it wasn’t Frozen or a TedX Talk. There was a lot of panting and screaming.  She did put in ear buds when prompted without looking even faintly embarassed or nonplussed.

#6 The inconsiderate

Two women sitting two seats down from me talked through a presentation by Daniel Thorniley at HRTechWorld Amsterdam until I asked them to stop. Trust me, everything Daniel Thorniley says is worth listing to. Every. Single. Word. They threw me a “Whatever” glare. Thorniley’s presentation was targetting their age demographic, the under 40s. They obviously have no interest in the economic and social projections about their futures. They are not great.

#7 The extreme interruptor

The extreme interrutor cuts everyone off mid sentence. All the usual strategies “let me finish” and assertive body language fail.  No, you are not more important than any of us, even though you would like to think so. The only thing that stops them is telling them to “shut up and let other people make their point”

#8 The unpresent 

This is the person who is talking to you because there is no one else. They are constantly looking over their shoulders for someone more interesting /influential to engage. As soon as they see that someone, they smile indulgently, tap you on the shoulder and leave. Their conversation hygiene needs a lot of work.

The idea of when we open our mouthes it should be with the same consideration for conversation and other people  as if we needed to brush our teeth. We wouldn’t breathe stinky breath all over anyone. Would we?

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