I recently finished a book titled, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. In one chapter of the book the author, Sherry Turkle, interviews dozens of parents who admit their phones and laptops are taking over their lives so much so that they are not fully present during time with their children.
One father heartbreakingly admitted that he took his phone along with him when he played catch with his 10-year-old son in the backyard. The tech-obsessed father said, “I can tell it’s not as good as when I played catch with my dad.”
When I first picked the book up, I expected to only be interested in the “Work” chapter- I knew from the back cover Turkle was going to focus on a belief I share with every client and employee: no matter how sophisticated means of communication may become, ultimately, high value business transactions are closed as a result of a conversation between two people. But surprisingly, that was not what moved me the most. Instead, it was that section on parenting.
None of my best memories with my father, son, daughter, wife, or any friend or family member, for that matter, have a phone in it. They include moments and genuine connections filled with empathy. But today, technology is getting in the way of making more of those memories. Turkle says that, “…we’ve seen a 40 percent decline in the markers for empathy among college students, most of it within the past ten years. It is a trend that researchers link to the new presence of digital communications.” Our society’s obsession with email and text has not only led to a lessening of quality time with people we love, but also a decrease in the actual capacity to feel and understand others.
When I hire people or search for clients, I look for people that have not fell into this trap. I pursue clients that display passion for their product or service when I speak to them. I seek out employees that are so personable, and such strong conversationalists that when I look up at the clock, I cannot believe an hour has gone by. I work with those same employees to make connections quickly and authentically with others, and never employ a script.
Yes, email and text are here to stay. But that does not mean true dialogue needs to leave. Just like how a “game of catch” uninterrupted by the need to check a cell phone- leads to better conversations and a better understanding of the person you are throwing to – a focused discussion and empathetic listening are critical for understanding a client’s or employee’s needs and issues. These “real conversations” lead to stronger and more successful business and personal relationships.