According to a recent Mobileinsurance.com survey, the average person spends up to 23 days a year staring at their phone screens. That’s almost a month per year! This stat doesn’t surprise me. In the time I’ve spent playing Spider Solitaire, I could have written a novel, walked 1000 miles benefiting my head, my heart, and my dogs, thrown more dinner parties, played my guitar, painted a landscape.
The question for all of us to answer is: Does the time we spend staring at our screens each day add more value to our lives or detract from our lives? How are emails, texts, Twitter, Snapchat, Instant Messaging, Instagram, WhatsApp, Periscope, Facebook, and so adding to or detracting from our relationships? And do our emails, texts, and blog posts leave a positive or negative wake?
I suspect that most screen time leaves a neutral emotional wake—an exchange of information, perhaps. Although some screen time definitely leaves a devastatingly negative wake—unkind comments, criticisms, body shaming, rants. What if we throttled back and considered our intention? What might we do differently if we realized that we may be losing emotional capital one email, one post, one text at a time?
There are, of course, wonderful benefits of technology. One of my favorites is that we are able to connect virtual teams in a way never before. At Fierce, we host training that connects people on six continents. I can deliver a keynote without leaving my home or office. By the time you read this, our options for communicating over the Web likely will have expanded. For organizations with multiple offices, this is hugely important and useful. On the other hand, while virtual meetings are better than no meetings at all, everyone I’ve spoken with over the last few years expressed a need—a desire—for periodic face-to-face time with colleagues, even if it required the expense of plane trips and hotels.
There is a visceral connection that is missing when:
- we are not physically present with one another
- we are unable to interact up close and personal
- we can't detect the smile or the frown at the corner of someone’s lips
- we can’t pull someone aside on a break and ask a question or offer a thought
- we can’t go for a coffee or a drink after a meeting and share what’s happening in our lives.
Talking about work is, of course, important. But we are all so much more than our jobs, and getting to know at least a bit about one another’s lives outside of work helps us connect on a deeper level.
What should you do when you realize that words alone may be insufficient to convey your meaning and intent? That sending another email will increase the likelihood that you will be misinterpreted and leave a negative emotional wake? That an important relationship has become shallow or vulnerable? Pick up your phone! Walk down the hall.
The most powerful communications technology available to any of us is eye contact. In second position is our phone, because if we can’t talk face-to-face, at least we can hear each other’s voices. Email should be our last choice. Don’t sacrifice results in favor of efficiency. Stop potentially leaving a negative emotional wake in favor of saving time.
When I don’t see you, I am unaware of what may be going on for you. I am unaware of my effect on you. When I do see you, I am able to pay fierce attention not only to the words between us but to their effect as well. I see you. I am here. What a lovely way to begin a conversation.
Stacey Engle, executive vice president of marketing for Fierce, Inc., and a millennial, offers a few guidelines.
Do use text to:
- communicate logistics and more directive statements
- share small praises and appreciation
- connect on special occasions
- talk through simple scenarios.
Don’t use text to:
- convey more than three sentences of thoughts at a time—a novel is not appropriate
- talk about complex emotional thoughts
- share confidential information
- confront someone.