“Put that cell phone down and look me in the eye!”
“Is your face glued to the computer screen?”
“He always has his headphones on and his music playing.”
How many times each day do you want to say that to someone? But what about you? Have you, too, developed the unconscious habit of constantly checking your mobile device while in the presence of others, or so attached to your computer you miss what’s going on around you? It’s time to become aware of this growing epidemic that is eroding our people skills and annoying everyone else.
It’s a habit. A bad one. People of all ages are becoming more and more addicted to their smartphones, tablets, laptops, and are more often connected—or “plugged in”—to personal technology in some way. How many times have you been trying to speak to someone, only to have their attention dart between you and what’s on their smartphone or try to have a conversation with a person staring blankly at their laptop? It’s rude, highly annoying and spreading across all members and areas of society. Your best bet to overcome this bad habit is to turn it off and put it away whenever you are speaking with another human being.
Eye contact has always been and will be vital in speaking with people. We want to see another’s eyes. It not only means someone is paying attention, but allows for us to be able to read or gauge what someone else may be thinking or feeling. It can indicate truth or deception. It is the basis of polite conversation. Focusing your line of sight toward a TV, or to your phone or computer, is aggravating and hurtful for the other person because you are essentially telling them that they are not as important as this piece of technology.
The more attention we give toward the technology in our lives, the less we develop our people skills. Person-to-person communication is an art form. It requires that we actually practice it. Most of our communication is nonverbal. If we don’t practice in-person communication, we lose sight of the nuances of both reading and using body language.
Technology has made people very focused on themselves. Devices have gone from large, shared machines enjoyed by a community, to very individualistic tools or toys. The majority of people have their own smartphone containing their own friends; their own computer holding their own virtual world; or their own iPod full of their own music with their own headphones. Social media, too, encourages people to talk about themselves “socially” by showing the virtual world the best pictures of themselves, telling people what they just did, or sharing photos of what they are about to eat. So naturally—or unnaturally (depending on how you look at it)—technology has made us very self-centered. Therefore, when you meet someone for the first time, don’t talk about yourself.
Show more interest in who they are. You can easily do this by asking them some very basic questions such as where they work, where they may have gone to school, what hobbies they may have, or what sports they may enjoy. If your smartphone is away, your eyes are on the person, and you are smiling and engaging them in conversation. You will be amazed at how people will become attracted to you.
Far too often, we think that if we just put that phone away and leave it on vibrate, we will be able to resist the urge to know who is contacting us, texting us, sending a photo, etc. through sheer will power. Nonsense! Put it on silent.
You know that when your phone phone vibrates when you are speaking to others, your attention turns to your phone and you develop an overwhelming urge to know what’s going on in your virtual world. It is distracting and will cause you to try to sneak that one little peek. Once you peek, it’s over. You’ve lost, and have given the habit more strength.
Whether it is a meeting or at the dinner table, do not leave your smartphone lying on a table when you are with others, or keep your laptop open in front of you—even if you’re doing really well at looking at them in the eyes. There is nothing worse than being in a conversation when all of a sudden, the phone lights up or vibrates, or a computer becomes a participating extension of the conversation. Even if you plan to not pick it up because others are speaking, everyone sees it and it distracts from the conversation. If you are that important or you’re waiting on some kind of very important communication, always inform the other parties at the table, or in the meeting, and ask them to please excuse your phone being in plain sight. Only in emergencies should you ever keep it in view.
It is far too easy to log onto Facebook these days and learn about someone, and see what they’ve been up to in life; or you might send them a message on Twitter to say ‘hello.’ While for some this is meaningful communication, it doesn’t fully connect with someone. If you default to Tweeting, try sending them a direct text message. If you default to text messaging, try calling them on the phone. If you often friends or family to chat, and they live nearby, try visiting them in person, or meet halfway together for coffee. There are several ways you can improve your interactions and communication with people, and the most meaningful ways are ones that require you to put in a little more effort. Going to send an email? Try a hand-written note with a stamp and put it in the mail. You will make a much more positive impact with a more intentional form of communication.
I am sure you have an opinion. Everyone does. But that doesn’t mean we should always take it to Facebook or type out arguments through email or text messages. Many people struggle to fully understand the context and tone a person has when all they can see are words. Yes, emoticons can help, but they can never replace a fully accessible conversation between people about a serious subject. Having a conversation in person, or even over the phone or video chat, allows people to see your face, your body language, and hear your tone of voice. Saying something with passion that may be provocative over text message, email, or elsewhere in writing online can get you into trouble and/or can be more damaging than you intended for it to be. Your opinions about sensitive topics are best communicated in person.
The greatest asset to our success comes not necessarily from the number of degrees that may hang upon our wall—it comes from our people skills. People skills help us to foster and build lasting relationships. Technology has become the biggest obstacle in the development of people skills. It has caused people to develop the bad habit of paying more attention to what’s happening in the online world, and less to what is happening in the real world in front of them.
While this epidemic is spreading quickly, it is those who overcome and break the habit who will derive the benefit of others’ attention and respect. What we wish to receive from others is what we must demonstrate to them. We expect people to be civil to us, show their attention to us when speaking, and treat us respectfully. But we must become aware of how we speak to and treat others in order to overcome the poor habits of today’s technology-addicted generation and re-learn the art of conversation combined with solid people skills.
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