What a concept. In this day of uber technology, just good ol’ fashioned talking. Few of us are not connected to text, email, Facebook or Twitter — a lot. (I admit, I’m guilty as charged) That ease of communication can be a double edged sword, though. It can be such an easy go-to that face-to-face talking is becoming the last, not first resort.
My kids, who are busy parents, really hate talking on the phone. In fact, two of the three will do almost anything to avoid answering a ringing phone yet they message with speed and ease. There’s really no talking on the phone to my older grandchildren either yet I can discover pretty much anything from their texts or Facebook timelines. And they are not alone. Studies show that 32% of people would rather text than talk to you. But, boy, don’t you miss the prehistoric days when people talked in real time?
While IM’ing is quick and responsive, it leaves a lot to be desired sometimes. All those nonverbal quirks that can sway a conversation are absent. We have no idea if a short answer is in context or abrupt, part of a larger, more expansive thought or protected in anger or fear of judgement. A simple smile, tear or smirk changes the temperature of the conversation. Your own thoughts are conveyed without benefit or warmth or meaning other than the stark letters on a screen.
Things go best when you pay close attention to what is being said and that’s a little difficult in text time. In email, we have a delete button which saves a lot of oops messaging, assuming we use it before pushing send. Yet, there’s still something to be said about face-to-face contact. It’s in that place that we learn, through each other’s facial expressions, posture and tone, who, we are.
Without communication, we are all together in this big world – alone. We can’t have our needs met without the help of others; nor can they. Sure, we can say that we walk and chew gum at the same time but can we really? I’m a pretty good multi-tasker and can pay bills, read the newspaper, text and watch tv at the same time but which of them am I doing well? Ah, good question.
It doesn’t really matter how much time you spend with your spouse, family, friends, if you don’t communicate. Oh, they all may know you well, but no one but we ourselves what’s inside our heads, what we need at the moment, what we mean to say, or what we need to say – unless we tell them. And there is so much depth of communication that’s lost between the lines when we draw them instead of talking.
My to-do list usually includes people I need to check in on to see how they are or what they are up to but often days pass and those names are still on my list. Why? Usually because they don’t have an email address or don’t text and, yes, I didn’t make the time to call them. I guess I’m as guilty as most people who rely on technology to speed dial my messages and though I hate admitting that contemporary fact, it’s still true. Mea culpa.
In the age of 140 characters, it’s easy to think and write as succinctly as possible. Business mandates it; life encourages it. If a conversation seems like it might require a longer time slot in a short, busy day, it gets postponed until the next time it pops up again on the list. But, when life is so short, shouldn’t those conversations get a hearing sooner rather than later? And when we do make time for the conversation, do we really want to expand our minds to take it all in? Do we open ourselves to hear more than we bargained for but what someone needs to say? Do we remember that the best conversations begin with good listening? That’s little hard to do only on a keyboard.
My granddaughter once told me that she could often be more candid in her written conversation than verbal ones and she just might have something there. Given the anonymity of private emails, we can expound on our thoughts and feelings more fully than we can in person. Then again, once upon a time, that’s what handwritten letters were for. Now, time constraints and our own natural protectiveness often prevent full disclosure.
Along with what we share to others, there is a mutual need to have them do the same. When our answers are lost in translation, maybe we just need to ask better questions. To give and receive candid, more heartfelt and open communication, we need to frame our conversations differently than we are used to. In her new book, Option B, Sheryl Sandburg says that instead of asking a grieving person ‘Are you okay?’ it’s a lot better to ask ‘Are you okay today?”. I can so relate. When asked the first question, my response is usually geared to what I think the person wants to hear, not wanting to open a can of worms they’d have to make a quick escape from. The second allows me to take my temperature that day and give a more layered, yet candid answer.
I’m a big believer in not letting the moment go by. When I think someone is being distant, I tend to ask if there is something I might have not seen or done for them. Though it sounds like borderline insecurity, it usually names the elephant in the room and sparks honest dialogue. Misunderstanding can ruin relationships. Getting to the heart of the assumption can give birth to real truth — and real relationships.
A neighborhood meeting a few weeks ago illustrated that premise. A lovely woman, who for the past 20 years had seemed elusive to everyone, was reserved as usual that night. On her way out, my close neighbor and I convinced her to stay a bit. I put my arm around this very quiet gal and told her how happy I was to have her there. Knowing that she was living as solo as we were, I told her that we are here for her whenever she needs us and offered friendship. And before our eyes, this woman transformed from a painfully shy person to a radiant woman who later that week dropped off homemade muffins to us. Faceless digital communication would never have performed that miracle.
So here’s the deal. None of us are about to ditch texting, IM’ing or emailing, but we can try not to put off phone calls that might add to our and another person’s day. After all, before tweets, there were letters, poems, and yes, real conversation. So look up from the screen. Start a real face-to-face with someone who matters — because it all matters.
Besides, you never know, one little conversation can change things forever.