Look Me in the Eye – or Can You?

The other night, while I was having dinner with my friend, there were two young women seated next to us. As my friend and I were enjoying a nice meal and stimulating dinner conversation, we noticed our “neighbors” weren’t saying a word to each other. Why, you ask? They were texting!

No, they weren’t texting each other. They were messaging other friends (or boyfriends), and carrying on separate, “silent” conversations. They did momentarily converse with one another to compare messages and have a giggle. But through it all, they didn’t look each other in the eye.

That got me thinking how little eye contact there is left. When I’m on the subway pressed against my fellow straphangers, we don’t look at each other. You see the tops of people’s heads because they’re playing games on their phones or they’re reading their Kindles.

If you’re seated at the bar waiting for a friend to arrive, you don’t make eye contact with people; you gaze at your phone, perusing the Web or checking your text messages. Don’t be surprised if the number of people meeting in bars has gone down. Instead of people checking you out, they’re checking themselves “in” on Facebook or FourSquare.iPhoneTexting

So where do you draw the line? Is it possible for people to balance digital and face-to-face conversations in their social lives?

With all the distractions our smartphones have (e.g. camera, Internet, SMS, games, apps, social media), there’s just too much temptation. Unless some type of etiquette is set, interpersonal communication will continue to be disrupted.

Perhaps restaurants (like gyms and movie theaters) can discourage the use of mobile phones. Or they can establish mobile-free zones, much like the old days of smoking and non-smoking sections.

Otherwise, “social” settings will be anything but.

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Everyone Loves A Good Story

In corporate communications, storytelling has long been recognized as a successful tool to communicate important messaging. It’s easier to reach employees with engaging content that pertains to them. People want to read about people – the faces behind the words. Image

Of course, the power of storytelling extends beyond the workplace. We might enjoy a good story at a party, over a gossipy lunch with the gals, or while reading weekly issues of our favorite magazines.

Okay. So we’ve established that people love a good story but do we ever think about why we’re so attracted to the technique?

The love of stories dates back to our childhood. How many times did our parents read us a story when they tucked us in at night? Their soothing words would lull us into a deep sleep. We felt comforted by the strong bonds that formed. And a good night story was our opportunity to wind down after a long day of school and homework.

Fast forward to adulthood and not much has changed. Effective storytelling provides escapism. Whether it takes place at a water cooler in the office or on the phone with a friend, storytelling is our chance to relate, engage, and entertain. Without storytelling, there would be no rapports. It’s an opportunity to share and keep things personal – whether you’re in an office or enjoying a Friday happy hour with friends.

Without storytelling, we wouldn’t be human. It’s what connects us. If we didn’t have it, we’d all be machines, just carrying out our day-to-day tasks with a bit of small talk here and there, at best.

Having covered a plethora of conferences over the years, I’m pleased to see more executives relating their own personal experiences to connect with audiences. And it’s working: surveys are revealing that employees want to hear from bosses, and that they want to feel connected to companies’ visions, missions, and values. It’s those stories that will help keep staff feeling connected. Effective internal communications tools will help to ensure that employees will also receive a voice and have the chance to share their own stories and experiences inside the company.

Thanks to social media, we all have platforms where we can share stories, whether they’re on Facebook or on a blog post like this one.

Storytelling helps us to feel, to empathize, to understand, to appreciate, to take action, to vent, to connect. It keeps things real.

Has technology made us lazier communicators?

Remember when we used to wait by the phone to ring or when we checked our answering machines when we got home, in anticipation of a special phone call? We relished the communication and our hearts skipped a beat when we heard the person’s voice.

Now, it’s Facebook. Or Twitter. We get a ping. Or a poke. Or a Like.

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We don’t get a Happy Birthday phone call but there’s a post on our walls. Any recognition is nice, of course, but what’s missing is the personal aspect of communication. I won’t dwell on this too much because by now, there have been countless articles and blogs about this. But a newer trend I have been noticing is that blogs and Facebook/LinkedIn posts have been getting less comments. But they are getting Likes.

Similarly on Twitter, you tend to see a lot of re-tweets or favorites, but there are fewer conversations. And rather than personally messaging people to thank them for a follow, many tweeters are programming annoying auto-responses with a link to their websites. Boy, that’s personal.

My point: technology is resulting in less effort to communicate. It only takes a second to hit a Like button but to actually have to comment and participate in a back-and-forth conversation? Forget about it. People just don’t have the time these days. However, they do seem to have time to play Candy Crush or Pengle. Games win out over thinking and communicating any day.

Technology and social media are great, but through all our gadgets, texting, and tweeting, we mustn’t let our brains turn to mush. We need to remember to keep engaging, keep conversing, and keep building the relationships that we want to grow. We need to actually be SOCIAL.