Last week we had an unusually warm fall day and I decided to go out and enjoy the lunch hour at a favorite local restaurant. As I walked toward the door, I was reminded of the power our senses have over our experiences. Smells of spices wafted through the air and made my stomach gurgle long before I crossed the threshold. I was ushered to a table by the head of the family that has owned the place for generations. It all felt welcoming and warm…until new guests arrived at the next table.
The new guests were a well-dressed mother and daughter, the child was about 9 years old, and clearly looked happy to be at the restaurant. As they sat down and were handed the menus, the girl started chatting about her choices for lunch while the parent immediately pulled out her phone and began to text. At some point, the girl stopped talking and reached in her backpack for her own phone. They never put them down again until the food arrived, and even then, would occasionally pick them up between bites.
This is not an unusual situation these days, but it left me feeling sad. The connection that could have been made that day was lost and the modeled behavior gave preference to texts over family. Texts do not substitute for human connection. Communication is multi-faceted, and mere letters on a screen do not convey warmth, sorrow, joy, the pure connection felt from a human being’s presence. The art of conversation is not a ‘nice to have,’ it is critically important to our growth as human beings.
We learn to listen, we feel compassion, we learn that words can heal, and words can harm. When we converse, we do not get to hide behind a screen, we need to own our words…and their impact, for better or worse. As leaders, this should not be viewed as a “soft skill” but as a job requirement- how many times might we miss the opportunity to lead with inspiration, with compassion and with clarity because we are driven to distraction by our phones, laptops and the noise around us. Mindful Communication has become the top request for the workshops from the Institute for Mindful Leadership. It is becoming more and more obvious to businesses that authentic connections are necessary for organizational excellence.
So, in the face of the habitual nature of technology, can we return to recognizing and practicing real conversation? Here are a few external and internal tips to increase your chances of having a conscious conversation.
1. Turn off or put away all screens-you cannot have a conscious conversation with one eye on the phone or laptop. If the person is important, show them. Give them your full attention.
2. Before you begin, check in on your intention for the conversation. Can you bring an intention to be open to whatever will unfold?
3. It can also be important to bring kindness to the conversation. you can remind yourself that we are all in this together, that we all aspire to be happy and healthy. Remembering these truths can help you listen more deeply.
4. When your mind wanders, bring it back. Your presence will be felt, and so will your absence.
5. Be patient with this practice. It takes time and commitment.
The opportunity to re-connect to those we love and those we work with is well worth the effort.