We’ve all done it: pulled out our phone in a moment of waiting in line to get coffee or while your friend is driving you to the movies. It’s a habit many of us do multiple times daily. Deloitte found that Americans check their phones collectively 8 billion times per day; a Gallup poll found most users are checking it at least hourly, if not more.
However, this habit of constantly getting sucked into your digital world could have a detriment effect on your communication skills when it comes to business. If you become uncomfortable talking to colleagues when you don’t have anything specific to talk about, this could influence your potential working relationship and overall productivity down the road.
Psychology Today found that small talk amongst coworkers (sometimes known as “water cooler talk”) could actually increase productivity 10-15%, due to the fact that we are social animals and feeling like we are part of a community can increase our overall happiness and output at work.
Here are some of the ways we are using technology as a communication detriment and why it’s worth it to fight the urge to let it get in the way of building better relationships.
Avoid Using Technology as Filler For Silence
Before smartphones, people often filled silences in waiting rooms or while waiting for a meeting to start with small talk—the weather, a recent news item, what holiday is coming up next. In order to avoid this, many people instead pull out their smartphone, using it as a digital “security blanket” that makes it seems like you have emails to answer or people to text back.
Culturally, if we see someone hurrying down the street, phone next to their ear, we assume they are on their way to an important appointment that is probably much more important than our own agenda. However, we should sacrifice the need to look important to others for actually doing the work to make ourselves happier or more effective in the office.
Small Talk Can Affect Your Overall Well-being
However, the next time you feel the urge to pull out your phone (even if everyone around you is doing it), consider sparking up a conversation with someone nearby instead. If it’s a stranger, remark on the location’s décor or the weather.
If it’s a colleague or friend, ask about their family or what projects they have going on. Many conversations not only lead to better relationships, but more positive interactions with others can increase your overall daily happiness, according to the Scientific American.
Choosing Virtual Means Over In-Person or Phone Conversations
Because I work remotely, my colleagues and I spend the majority of our time talking over virtual means, like Google Hangouts, Skype, or email. While this can help you ask questions more quickly without getting distracted, there are some conversations that would be better solved with a quick call or a stop to their desk, if you work in the same office. The Huffington Post recommends that if your IM conversation takes more than 10-15 minutes to explain something or get on the same page, an in-person or phone chat would’ve likely been better.
While I do find that I get to know my colleagues better when we are IMing about our lives or what we’re working on (which is comparable to a virtual “water cooler”), I do feel closer to them, which does make our working relationship better. A Harvard study found that women’s expectations of work relationships place a high value on loyalty and trust, something that can be built slowly through regular communication, both online and in-person.
However, if we are on different sides of a topic or I am trying to walk someone through something, I’ve found that a call is much easier. In addition, one benefit of calls on Hangouts or Skype that technology has made exponentially better is screen share. It allows us to see what the other person is seeing, which makes problem-solving and brainstorming go much more quickly. I also often record my screen when explaining a task I need help with to send to my virtual assistants so they can review and work on it in their own time. This is often much quicker than typing out instructions in an email.
When you are taking more than a few seconds to type your replies in IM or email, consider if a quick phone call or meeting would make the process easier.
Using Digital Communication to Build Relationships
When it comes to determining what type of communication is best for the situation, ask yourself what would make you happier and what would further your relationship with those around you.
If you’re at the DMV and Candy Crush is the only thing that will make you less stressed, then it’s usually worth pulling your phone out. However, if you’re with a group of coworkers for your monthly book club lunch, leave your phone in your pocket or bag and focus on catching up with the people that are right in front of you. This can often leave to better dividends for building your relationships more than checking your email or Facebook ever could.
Featured image created via Canva. Other image via DepositPhotos.