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

Blog Short #13: The 24-Hour Decision-Making Rule

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!

Making decisions is a big deal because there are always repercussions.

Some decisions are easy and the repercussions are minor, but others can produce a string of reactions that come back at you, or keep showing up out into the future. Either way, it’s good to use a strategy which I call the 24-Hour Decision-Making Rule.

You can pretty much figure out what that means just by the title. When you have to make a decision, or you have the impulse to do something or say something (which is a decision), give it 24 hours and see if you still want to do it. Better yet, make this a habit so you don’t impulsively do something you’re sorry about later.

This can apply to decisions of all kinds including simple things like posting something on social media out of anger. Or maybe a more serious decision like going into your boss’s office and giving him a piece of your mind. Or buying something on the fly without thinking about whether you can really afford it. Or getting the rescue dog at the pet store that’s so adorable without considering whether you have the time or right circumstances to take care of it.

You need your emotional brain and thinking brain to work together, and that doesn’t always happen with snap decisions.

​Good decisions are made best when both our emotions and thinking capacity are engaged in a concerted effort to deliberately and consciously make a choice with the best possible outcomes, or avoid a choice that will be detrimental to ourselves and others.

Allowing a time lapse between the impulse to act and the act itself allows this process to occur. And for serious decisions with big consequences, it’s definitely a life-saver.

Here’s when you don’t need to use the 24-hour rule:

  • A fast decision is required as in the case of an emergency.
  • The decision isn’t impulsive and you’ve already done the necessary deliberation and planning to make the best choice.
  • Simple decisions that are made every day that aren’t emotionally driven such as what time to get up, when to eat dinner, or anything that’s just part of your normal routine.

​​Here’s when you need to use the 24-hour rule:

  • The decision is emotionally driven. Maybe you’re angry, depressed, or anxious and your mood is pushing you from the inside to act now!
  • There’s an important relationship issue involved. This can be with a partner, friend, child, boss, co-worker, or even someone you don’t know but are interacting with.
  • The decision will have consequences for your budget or time consumption.
  • There’s a grey area between what you want to do and your values or conscience.
  • You’re physically or mentally impaired. Maybe you’re ill, foggy brained, or simply in a bad mood and not thinking clearly.

​Just to make it easy, I generally use the 24-hour rule for every decision I can, even small ones, as a matter of habit. It simplifies things. You know that if you still want to do that thing in 24 hours, then you feel good about the decision because you’ve thought about it and likely run it through your pros/cons lens.

What’s surprising when you begin this is to find out how many decisions you decide against when you allow the 24 hours, and what kinds of problems you avoid by doing that. That’s the silver lining!

It also gives you a lot more control over your future – even your next day future! It feels good to have that self-discipline and be able to use your emotions to work for you instead of against you.

For the next several weeks, try deferring some decisions, even small ones, for 24 hours and see what happens? You might learn more about yourself!

That’s all for today! Have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #12: It’s time for a check-in with yourself.

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!

Well, we’ve finally reached 2021! Does it seem different yet? Likely not, but maybe you’re feeling the stirrings of momentum as I am. I hope so!

As part of any starting point, there’s an exercise I like to use. It’s helpful when you want to reset emotionally and see if you need a shift in perspective, or uncover something you need to attend to or consider.

I call it a “check-in with self.” Basically it’s taking some time to reflect on how you are, where you are, and where you’re going.

Here’s how to do it.

You’ll need a free hour. At least one hour and more if you like, but not less.

You’ll need to be alone without distraction.

This means being far enough away from everyone so you can’t get interrupted, or hear what anyone else is doing or saying. The optimum situation is to be completely alone, however, you could be sitting outside or in a public place where there’s little in the way of distracting noise. You have to be able to attend to your own thoughts without any disruption. That’s the criteria.

The second rule is absolutely no technology. No phone. No computer. No music. No outside input of any kind. Just you.

Once you have the place and environment nailed down, you can proceed with the exercise. Ask yourself these questions, and really think about them.

  1. How am I emotionally? Get specific. What’s your overriding feeling? Likely you’ll have a variety of feelings that come up, but try to reflect on your primary emotional state. What’s the overall tone? Positive? Negative? Hopeful? Helpless? Anxious? Happy? Content? Bland? Push down until you can identify how you really are.
  2. How are my relationships? What needs attention, and what kind of attention? What do I need to let go of? What do I need to address? What needs improvement? What’s good already, and what am I grateful for?
  3. How am I feeling about my life in general? Do I have a sense of control over the direction? Do I have a direction at all? Am I focused on what’s important to me? Do I have baggage I need to resolve?
  4. Do I have a strong sense of who I am, and does my life reflect that? If not, what needs change? If so, how do I continue and what’s next?

If you’re not in the habit of spending quiet time with yourself and checking in this way, you might find this exercise uncomfortable. It’s easy to stay so busy that you avoid dealing with your emotional life, and when you slow down and turn your attention inward, it’s a bit overwhelming.

On the other hand, it can feel good to take the time to commune with yourself, and get an overview of where you are as well as clarify what needs attention. It’s sort of like a personal reboot, and gives you a fresh perspective to both identify where you’re stuck, and appreciate who you are and what you already have.

What if I can’t sit for an hour with myself?

If you do this exercise, yet find that sitting quietly for one hour is extremely difficult, start by sitting as long as you can and work at it every week until you can sit for an entire hour comfortably and be alone with yourself.

You might find the first couple of times, that you’re flooded with feelings and thoughts you normally aren’t aware of, or keep at a distance. Just stay with it. Eventually, you’ll settle in and feel the benefits of short periods of solitude and self-reflection.

How often?

I like to do this once a month. It’s like a retreat, and I look forward to it. I have a shorter meeting with myself weekly to monitor progress on goals and habits, but this hour is more about reflection, not goal setting.

Try it out and see what it brings. I think you’ll find it helpful and relieving. If you find that the emotions coming up are too disturbing, then think about some counseling.

I’m finishing up an article on the value of counseling that includes what to look for in a therapist. It should be up later this month if therapy is something that appeals to you.

For now, enjoy your hour of reflection, and may it bring you some new insights and provide some direction as you start this year.

See you next week!

All my best,

Barbara

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