How often do you send an email instead of picking up the phone and having a direct conversation? How many times have you experienced conflict or challenge because of a misunderstood text or email? Do you have long talks via text? When was last time you sat down and had a really great conversation with your partner, your best friend, or your colleague without your smart-phone in sight?
I hear so often, “Kids these days! They don’t know how to communicate.”
Direct communication can be a very confronting conversation. We have all, adults, young adults, teens, and even pre-teens become reliant on our smart-phones for communication. Yes, they are convenient. Yes, they allow us to stay in touch more often, shoot out quick notes to add items to the grocery list or to say hello. I am afraid, however, that this electronic, smart-phone communication has several devasting effects:
1) We have many friends we “talk” to and yet we still feel isolated and alone.
2) Electronic communication misses nuance, tone, and body language and is very often misconstrued or misunderstood.
3) We avoid the hard conversations and sweep them under the proverbial smart-phone rug.
4) We are losing the art of face to face, person to person communication, and connection.
Are We Wearing Masks?
Years ago, when I was a cocktail waitress in college, I had a horrible experience one Halloween. I went to college in a small town in Maine, and I loved this job. On a typical Friday evening, I had a great time serving drinks, chatting with friends I knew, and making new friends. On this particular evening, everyone was celebrating Halloween, and many of the patrons were wearing masks. As the night progressed the behavior of the patrons, particularly those wearing masks, deteriorated drastically. To the point where we had to close the bar. People I knew thought it was funny to knock drinks of my tray, slap me from behind, and make rude comments. It was a rough night.
My explanation for this behavior from people I knew who were, yes, sometimes a bit rowdy, but were also friends and acquaintances and never had in over two years acted this poorly.
My explanation at the time and I concur to this day, is that all dressed up and in masks, they felt UNSEEN and believed that no one would know who they were. They acted with more bravado, more bullying, more confidence, and more rudeness than they ever would have unmasked and uncovered.
Do we do the same thing with our electronic communication? Do we hide behind our phones to avoid difficult or awkward conversations?
Face to face, human to human conversation is essential to understanding diversity, working through tough situations, and nurturing deep and meaningful relationships. Social media and text conversation are great, but the next time you need to have an awkward conversation, you know someone who is struggling with loss or illness, or when there is a crucial decision to be made – pick up the phone and call, or better yet schedule a time to meet face to face.
At home, put the phones away, turn off the TV, and have conversations with your partner and your family members.
Ten Communication Practices
Here are ten practices to foster excellent communication skills:
1. Do not multitask, be present in the conversation (Phone off, away, and out of sight)
2. Do not talk over or pontificate. Listen carefully and assume you have something to learn from the conversation.
3. Ask open-ended questions. What was that like? How did that feel? Tell me more about that.
4. Try not to repeat yourself.
5. Be truthful about what you know and what you do not know, about what you understand and what you might not understand.
6. Stay out of the weeds (the details.)
7. Don’t jump in with your own experiences when someone is sharing with you.
8. Be brief, be clear, be honest.
9. Speak from “I,” not “you.”
10. Go with the flow. Don’t anticipate that you know where the conversation is going or how it will conclude.
Let’s stop hiding behind our electronic world and step into the light of authentic conversation and communication.