Want to be a better communicator? Put down your smartphone, strike up a conversation

There used to be a time when people weren’t listening to music, texting, IMing, checking their email, posting to Facebook, Tweeting and browsing the web as they crossed busy intersections. I’m guilty of being digitally leashed to my iPhone, having jumped on that bandwagon early on. Technology has done wonders for communication, allowing people from around the world to keep in touch in real time day or night.  But it has come with a humanistic price that we communicators should keep in mind.

People just don’t interact with each other in the same way they did just five – or even three – years ago. Simple conversation or small talk with people we don’t know – or even do know – just doesn’t seem to happen much anymore. Everyone is so immersed in their own little world that bringing them back to reality for a second to ask a question or even dole out a compliment seems taboo. I email reporters, gchat my cube mates at work and text my buddies. The person I spend the most time on the phone with is my mom – and that lasts for all of 10 minutes.

We have grown so accustomed to keeping in touch with others without  face-to-face contact or even uttering a peep, that in those cases where we do get on the phone with people we don’t often see, things can get awkward real quick. Just the other day, I called someone for the first time who I had met a couple days earlier. We had been texting almost every day but when I called and she picked up the phone, I found myself trying to make the call as brief as possible, and then went on to text  her minutes later. “So much better,” I thought to myself. But is it?

As communications professionals, we should strive to make in-person and verbal social interactions a part of our lives as often as possible. Picking up the phone to set up dinner plans, give thanks or say sorry is infinitely better than sending a text. Even making small talk with strangers on the train will inevitably help us all become better communicators. Reporters and bloggers appreciate a succinct email or tweet pitch, but a quick phone call can help avoid endless back and forth, things being lost in digital translation, help you deliver a more compelling pitch and ultimately build a rapport by creating a human connection.

So once in a while, put Lil Wayne on pause, stop slinging Angry Birds, look up, observe your surroundings and step out of your comfort zone to say hi to someone at the airport or at a local cafe. You may find yourself in a gratifying conversation and if you’re lucky, even making a connection.

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