Blog Short #14: Important conversations should be face-to-face.

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Today’s subject is about how technology has interfered with our capacity to truly connect with each other. The kind of connection I’m talking about is one where there’s an empathetic exchange, a sense of closeness, a willingness to explore emotions and deeper thoughts, and true intimacy.

One of the primary ways we make these kinds of connections are through conversation. The question is what type of conversation most enables intimate connection and real understanding.

This subject is increasingly critical because of the profound influence technology has had on our modes of conversation. Whereas we used to communicate primarily through face-to-face interactions, we now communicate additionally and sometimes primarily through texting, email, social media, and more lately, video chatting such as Zoom.

What are the effects of these techno-forms of communication?

There are many, but today I’ll discuss just two.

  1. A reduction in empathy.
  2. A negative impact on intimate connection.

Both these are important because they lie at the base of our capacity to understand ourselves including our thoughts, feelings, motivations, and behavior – and to understand the same in others.

Empathy in particular is a foundational necessity for relationships that flourish and last. It’s also the basic ingredient of a well-developed conscience. Without either of those, we wouldn’t survive as a species. It’s that important!

Research has shown that face-to-face conversation both encourages and builds empathy. This is how.

  • You see the body language and facial expressions of the other person and you learn to read their emotions, as well as feel them.​
  • You talk in real time with no opportunity to edit what you say. It’s authentic and spontaneous.
  • You can see and feel someone’s response to what you say, which allows you to empathize.
  • You can work toward understanding through questions, comments, and feedback with clarity.​
  • You can see someone’s eyes through which communication is most potent.

When you converse by text or email, you:

  • Can edit what you say so that the other person misses out on your process of getting there, and your emotions as you go.​
  • Avoid experiencing what the other person feels to some extent because you can’t see their facial expressions or body language. For example, if you hurt someone in some way, you may see their words by text or email, but you won’t actually see the pain as you would if you were face-to-face, and as a result, may not have the same degree of empathy or need to repair.​
  • Let time lapse between communications and miss the process.​
  • Easily misunderstand what’s said, and then act on that misunderstanding.​
  • Can’t see the eyes of the person you’re conversing with.

Studies back this up.

One study measured feelings of emotional connection among a group of adolescents by having them converse using four different methods of communication: face-to-face, video chat, audio chat, and IM. The results confirmed that emotional bonding was felt most during the face-to-face conversation, and least during the IM conversation.

Another study found that even the presence of a phone on the table where people are sitting and talking can have a negative effect on closeness, connection, and the quality of the conversation. This was especially true when people were discussing topics that had personal meaning to them. So if you’re trying to talk to your partner or maybe your child about something important, having the phone in view can inhibit how well you’re able to empathize with each other and feel connected.

There are many other studies that deal with the effects of screen time and technology-based communication on the development of empathy and self-awareness, but for now I just want to get you thinking about the importance of using face-to-face conversation more often, and especially for conversations that involve emotions, relationship issues, conflict resolution, or anything that’s personally meaningful to you or the person you’re conversing with.

Here’s a couple of rules to follow when you talk face-to-face:

  1. Put your phone away. Not just down, but out of sight. If you really want to listen and be heard, your phone’s a distraction.
  2. Don’t multi-task while you talk. Turn your attention toward the person you’re talking to and give 100% of your focus.
  3. Look directly at the person. Not every second if that feels too difficult or awkward, but make sure there’s sufficient eye contact.
  4. Abandon any other activities while talking, and if you don’t have enough time for the conversation, say so and decide when you can talk without distraction.
  5. Don’t use text or email to resolve conflicts, or emotionally packed issues. Do these face-to-face. Texting is great for logistical conversations or checking in, but not for important conversations that require reading the other person and vice versa.
  6. And if you have kids, use these same rules.

If you’d like to read more on this subject, I’d suggest Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle. It’s a great read and has so much more information than I’ve touched on today, as well as ideas on what to do to reverse damage from too much screen time.

That’s all for today. Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

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