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Is modern life killing quality conversation?

19th March 2010 Print

Brits still spend a breathtaking amount of time talking to each other; however, it appears the quality of those conversations is in jeopardy.

Those are the findings of a new social study carried out by BT as it paints the UK’s first ‘Talk-trait of a Nation’*. This trend tracking study is designed, over time, to track the communication habits of the nation and their impact on relationships and lifestyles.

BT followed the communication habits of a group of participants over the course of a week, asking them to record the calls they made and their emotional reactions to making and receiving them. The insights gained were then tested with over 2,000 consumers.

The study showed that despite the growth in texting and the popularity of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, most people do still make time to speak to friends and family on the phone. In fact, young people are twice as likely as their parents to have a proper chat on the phone each day.

On average callers spend almost 4 hours a week on their phones (including mobiles and landlines) to family and friends. On those calls quality conversation, on average, kicks in after 2 minutes and 48 seconds.

However, a growing trend for people calling hurriedly in transit – or ‘chit’ for short - is at risk of damaging relationships and killing off quality conversation. When asked, one in four people recognised that they’d made such a call recently and one in four said they’d received one. However, it seems this habit may be affecting more of our calls than we realise – or are prepared to admit.

During the week-long social experiment, which analysed over 450 calls, more than half were squeezed in while out and about or preoccupied with other tasks around the home. These calls were less likely to generate quality conversations and left the caller feeling ‘rushed’ and the recipient ‘irritated’.

Psychologist Emma Kenny, who carried out the research, said: “Some people talk about texting, tweeting and Facebook killing quality conversation. This study has shown for most people that’s just not true. We are still talking on the phone – and most people recognise the value of hearing someone’s voice.

“However, as we paint BT’s first Talk-trait of a Nation, it appears that we need to put the ‘Chat’ back into ‘Chit-Chat’. The increase in the number of rushed calls we make, squeezed in when our mind is elsewhere is potentially a dangerous trend as these calls not only leave the recipient feeling emotionally short-changed but can also add to the stress of the caller.”

Actress Joanna Page from BBC's Gavin and Stacey is supporting the campaign to remind us to make the time to sit down and enjoy a proper chat on the phone. She said:

"I am involved with the Talk-traits campaign because I think that it is really important to make the time to talk to the people we love. I have the best chats with my mum on the phone. I think we all do, don't we, because mums always make time to have a proper chat. Living in London, our chats on the phone are really important to me. If I'm on the sofa on the home phone, I can just relax with no other distractions."

The study showed that quality chats were more likely to be made from home. It also identified the six key ingredients to having a proper chat on the phone were: being at home, being on your own, sitting or lying somewhere comfortable, no time limits, a hot drink or a glass of wine and no distractions.

Other insights include:

• Mums are the best at chatting on the phone, with Welsh mums coming out top
• Callers in Northern Ireland are most likely to have regular proper chats on the phone, followed by Londoners
• People in the West Midlands are least likely to chat regularly on the phone with one in six saying they rarely or never did

The study showed that in today’s modern world there are broadly six communication types:

• Happy Chatter: considers verbal communication to be the only type that truly matters
• Social Butterfly: has a Facebook page with hundreds of friends but over commits and can end up letting people down, missing out on quality time to connect with their nearest and dearest
• Impersonal Organiser: efficient communicator with an aversion to small talk
• Duty Dialler: cares deeply about loved ones, but life seems to get in the way of having a proper chat
• Unrung Hero: the first person people will turn to for some TLC, but because they always make the effort to keep in touch, they rarely get it returned
• E-vader: loves keeping in touch but has lost their voice the digital age allows them to sidestep talking by replacing it with social networking and text

In a bid to track these trends and paint the ongoing Talktrait of a Nation BT is challenging callers to go to or visit its touring Living Room to take part and find out what kind of communicator they are and how that impacts their relationships.