Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Eye Contact in the Modern World

Think back. Way back. To your high school dances. Have you ever been dancing with someone and they are looking around the room? Possibly they're looking to see who's watching them and what they are thinking, or possibly they're looking at (or for) more attractive dance partners. Either way, it doesn't feel good.

That's how it feels when someone is constantly looking at their phone when I'm out with them.

Now, I'm fortunate enough to have a group of friends who are techno-savvy as well as polite enough to make me feel like they really want to be there with me, not whoever may call or text in the next five minutes. But I know I'm one of the lucky ones.

It's the elephant in the room that makes us feel like "old fogies" when we bring it up. I didn't include it in my last article, but it deserves some discussion. It's not just etiquette, it's a lack of appreciation for a person you may really care about. It poisons the intimate, face-to-face connection that all of us crave and that all of these technologies were created to foster, not destroy. It's behavior that says "I'm not that into you," even when you may be.

As cell phone technology has advanced, users have been more and more trained to look for that "greener grass." This habit robs them of the enjoyment of the moment, time spent with the people who like them enough to make time to be with them in person. Being an adult is about making sacrifices and taking the chance on committing to something to reap deeper rewards. Only kids float from place to place, always searching, always proving and impressing, and never stopping to revel in the intrinsic satisfaction of the current experience. Having a short attention span and taking people for granted are immature traits.

So take a chance on the person in front of you, and let the rest of the world find someone else to dance with for an hour.

Communication Clutter

Do you ever feel like you’re juggling all of the people who seem to need your full attention immediately? Many of the gadgets released over the past 20 years seem to have made conquering your communication clutter harder, rather than easier. Use these tips to prioritize your communications, give you focus, and make you feel less frazzled.

1. It’s an old sales trick: the person in front of you is more important than the person on the phone. Good customer service reps will serve the person at the counter, and put the incoming phone call on hold. Try the same thing in your life. The person in front of you gets priority over anyone who calls or texts you on your cell phone. You can always check your voicemail and text messages in an hour, and the person that found time to sit down for a meal with you will appreciate your full attention. Of course, there are exceptions. If you are expecting an important call or get an emergency call, take it, but excuse yourself politely and make it brief.

2. Set boundaries with kids, and yourself. Inevitably, your kids will start talking to you as soon as you pick up the phone to call someone. Reiterate that it’s not polite to ask questions while someone is on the phone, and teach them what counts as an emergency. But hold up your end of the deal as well. Don’t spend all of your time on the phone or cell phone, especially when you’re with your children.

3. Make email lowest priority. It’s easy to get tied up reading and sending emails. If you have trouble finding time in your schedule, try checking email only a few times a day. Notify people that you are not constantly connected, so they know they need to call you if there is an emergency.

4. What’s an emergency? People will call you with urgency in their voice all of the time. But is there problem really an emergency? Remember the old saying: “lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Emergencies are events that require immediate action. If it can wait three or four hours, it’s not an emergency. Allow yourself not to be everyone’s keeper. (This change will make a lot of things in your life easier!)