I was inspired to write this post after a conversation I had with a friend at a social gathering who shared with me that he has hours of conversation with his girlfriend by text alone. He was actually lamenting that they could so easily address the issues they text about in a moment’s conversation if they just picked up the phone and actually spoke to each other. But they continue to text!
His girlfriend who was sitting beside him at the time seemed to take offense at his comments because they intimated that their relationship was somehow lacking in depth or intimacy. She declared that is how most people communicate these days and it’s just become normal.
Although I suspected she was right I felt a little disheartened. When did it become “normal” to have hours of conversation with someone in 140 characters or less? How natural and interactive can that be when we don’t have visual or verbal cues to discern tone, expression and meaning? What a landmine of potential misunderstandings and misinterpretations!
Texting and other forms of social media do seem to dominate many of our social and business interactions these days. Even when people choose to spend time together there is the constant distraction of phones being pulled out, almost compulsively, to check messages or even respond to them.
Yet I continue to feel optimistic. No matter how well technology serves to make our lives more convenient and efficient there is no substitute for real interpersonal connection. We all share the same human condition regardless of race, culture or gender. We all want to matter, be seen and heard and not just through a high resolution screen or 140 characters on a phone.
As a business and career coach I work with clients on helping them grow in emotional intelligence and one of the foundational characteristics of EI is self-awareness. If we can become more conscious of our actions and their impact on others we can then develop strategies to alter the behaviours that don’t serve us.
At the end of most coaching sessions, my clients frequently tell me that they feel validated, supported and really understood. Why is that?
Although I think I do good work, I believe what resonates most with people is simple, good old-fashioned communication skills and social etiquette:
Here are some core communication skills I continue to work on in all of my interactions with people:
I listen without interruption. I don’t allow distractions to shift my focus from what they are saying. That includes not having my phone out to tempt me with it’s flashing red light telling me I have new messages to open.
I make eye contact, lean in and show real interest in their stories.
I ask thoughtful questions and paraphrase to gain clarity and understanding.
I show empathy, care and concern with real facial expressions and not emoticons.
Some people might say that I get paid to meet with and listen to clients because it’s my job. Although that may be true these basic core skills are critical for everyone if they are striving for meaningful dialogue with friends and colleagues.
My personal challenge to you:
For the next few week, I encourage everyone to keep honing these core communication skills and see how they transform connections and deepen relations.
Encourage people in your lives to show up to the dinner table, coffee shop or work meeting to have authentic conversations by truly being present, curious, interested, to listen and ask insightful questions with undivided attention.
Let’s all be more conscious of our interactions and choose not to “normalize” habits that don’t serve to strengthen our most significant and important interpersonal relationships-another critical characteristic of people with high emotional intelligence.
Technology is a wonderful vehicle that can help facilitate so much in our lives but it has it’s place. So let’s keep it where it belongs; in our purses, our glove boxes, on our desks, and not as a replacement for real and meaningful interactions.
For those of you who already practice these skills mindfully I am going to guess that you are quite satisfied with the quality and depth of friendships you have nurtured.
If you feel you still have room to grow in this area, are you up for the challenge? I’d love to hear how it goes!