Let’s Not Lose Sight of Reality

I was listening to a podcast yesterday about Augmented Reality (AR) and the role it will play in our lives in the future.  Similar to Virtual Reality (VR) AR involves wearing a set of goggles that allows you to see things that aren’t really there.  The difference between AR and VR is that while VR shows you a view of an environment that doesn’t exist, AR allows you to see your actual environment, but also shows you things or people that aren’t physically present.

For example, I could be wearing AR goggles and look down at my wrist and see a wrist watch, even though I’m not actually wearing a watch, or I could see a flat screen TV or computer screen on the wall that isn’t really present.  In addition to objects, you would also be able to see people, who were also wearing AR goggles, as if they were in the same spaces as you, even if they are miles, countries, or even continents away.  It sounded pretty amazing!

The host of the podcast went on to talk about the application of such technology and how it could transform everything from how people attend conferences, train for skills, and even attend Thanksgiving dinners with family.  In his opinion, this technology was about 3 years away.  He made that comment that when this technology becomes available, it will very shortly begin impacting all of our lives.  One comment he made was that once this technology is mainstream, we will likely feel naked if we leave the house without our AR goggles.

That last part struck me, and has haunted me to some degree since hearing it.  I think AR and VR technology will be amazing and will have significant application and promise to improve many aspects of our lives.  However, I also see how it can further isolate us from one another as humans, much like our smartphones have the capacity to do today.  If we as users of this technology are not wise enough to put healthy boundaries around its use, I can see how we could easily become a society that is more focused and interested in the things in our lives that are NOT real, while neglecting the things (and people) that are.

Let’s take a lesson from the adoption and impact the smartphone has had on cultures today.  As new technologies become mainstream, let’s be aware to set boundaries around their use; boundaries that are designed to maintain, and hopefully strengthen, the relationships we already have with those around us.   It would be a shame to think that we would rather gravitate toward a piece of technology over interacting with people that are present in our lives.  But as history has shown us, if left unchecked, that is exactly how we would lean.

Being Real

So much of our days are spent looking like we have everything put together.  We often don’t let people around us know what we’re struggling with, what we’re being challenged by, or where we need help.  Certainly in America there is the thought that we should be “pulling ourselves up by our boot straps” without requiring assistance from others.

I don’t think this is always the case.  While there are times when we need to make an individual effort to drive change, I think we often overlook the benefit of sharing parts of our life with other individuals or a small group of like-minded people.

I am fortunate to be involved in 3 different groups of people ranging in size from 2 to 7 people.  These are informal groups that get together on a regular basis to discuss a topic that has significance in each person’s life.  One thing that has amazed me about each of these groups is how once people learn that the group is a safe place, how quickly they are to get real about their struggles and challenges.  In addition, people are also willing to offer encouragement to others, often borne out of their own experience with the same challenge or struggle another group member is facing.   These groups are also a great place for people to share their success with others who are genuinely excited to see others in the group succeed.

I don’t know if most people have a group, or an individual, they can be real with and with whom they can encourage and be encouraged by.  My guess is that they don’t.

Regardless, I think we each have the capacity as individuals to provide opportunities for others to be real around us.  It can be as simple as:

  • Actually listening to someone when they are telling us about what’s going on in their life instead of quickly jumping in and telling them what we’re up to.
  • Asking probing questions about what/how they’re doing, if you feel like there’s more to what someone is telling you, and it seems like they’d like to share
  • Sharing a similar struggle you’ve had that they are currently experiencing, and how you either have or are overcoming it. This lets them know that they’re not the only one who has struggled in this area.

We all have struggles and challenges.  We also have the capacity to lighten these burdens others carry by listening to them, encouraging them and celebrating the victories that often follow.

Be aware of the conversations you’re having with those closest to you and look for opportunities to get real with them.  It’s likely to result in a deeper relationship as well as the sense that you had a positive impact in the life of someone else.

How To Be A Great Conversationalist

On Monday I had the great pleasure of meeting my sister for lunch.  It’s not something we do as often as we’d like, but when it works out, I always enjoy the experience.  The reason lunches, or other outings with her are so much fun is because my sister is one of the best conversationalists I know.  During our recent outing, my sister’s example reminded me again what makes someone a great conversationalist.

Some of the attributes of a great conversationalist include:

  • They are attentive. Great conversationalists are present in the conversation. They are not looking at their smart phones or staring off over your shoulder to see what else is going on.  They are looking at you and giving you their full attention.  In our technology tethered world, I think that our attention is one of the greatest gifts we can give another person.
  • They are great listeners. Great conversationalists are willing to wait during a silent pause so the other person can finish a thought or think about what they want to say.  They don’t interrupt in mid-sentence to change the topic, nor do they feel the need to dominate the conversation with their own monologue.  Instead, they actively listen to what the other person is saying.
  • They bring something to the conversation. Great conversationalists don’t just sit there silently through the whole conversation, but rather they bring their own positive thoughts and insights into the discussion.  They ask clarifying questions, share ideas, and even challenge assumptions, all with the intent of gaining a deeper understanding of the topic and the other person’s perspectives.
  • They care. Great conversationalists care about the person(s) they are talking with and demonstrate that by not judging them, and by creating a safe and trusted environment where people can talk freely and feel they are actually being heard and understood.

What a gift it is to be in the presence of a great conversationalist!

If you want to be a blessing to someone practice the attributes of great conversationalists the next time you are visiting with someone and see how it positively impacts the conversation.  It’s a skill that will yield more gratifying conversations and deeper relationships with others.

Coming in Second Place

I don’t mind coming in second place, as long as I know that I’ve done my best.  However, there is nothing more frustrating than coming in second place to a smartphone.

Has it ever happened to you?  You’re interacting with another person when all at once, they stop interacting with you in order to respond to incessant smartphone notifications.   Worse yet, without even being prompted by a notification, they decide that interacting with you would be a good time to check social media updates, look at email, or see if any new texts have arrived.

Maybe you’ve even been with someone who is close to you who would rather pull out their smartphone and totally zone out, all but forgetting that you are present and eager to interact with them.

What’s up with that?

What kind of messages are we sending to people when we use our smartphones take priority over our interactions with them?  Those coming in second place to a smartphone are likely thinking:

  • Do they think I’m boring?
  • Would they rather be doing something else than being here with me?
  • Why did they agree to get together when they’d rather be on their phone than interact with me?
  • Are they looking to see what others are doing that is more exciting than what they’re doing right now?
  • What’s so exciting on your phone that you can’t put it down long enough to have a real person-to-person interaction?
  • This is the last time I’ll agree to get together with them in person. I’d get a better response if I just sent them a text.

I don’t know if people are intentionally trying to kill human interaction when they do these things.  My guess is that they are not even aware that they are putting their smartphone in first place.  Perhaps they’re just choosing the path of least resistance, because for some, human interaction is work.

Here are a couple of suggestions to ensure that we’re putting the people we’re with in first place:

  • Put your smartphone in airplane mode before you meet the other person
  • Keep your smartphone out of site during your interaction. Sometimes just the site of your smartphone can cause the other person to think you’re expecting a call, text, or social media update.
  • Don’t be so quick to want to find the answer to every question raised. They don’t all need to be answered on the spot.  Sometimes it ok if they’re not answered at all.  Sometimes it’s ok just to wonder.
  • If you truly would rather not spend time with the person, then don’t agree to. That would be a much kinder solution than putting them in second place.

Let’s put those we’re with in first place by giving them the gift of our undistracted attention.  Not only will they appreciate it, they will be likely do the same for you.

Do Not Disturb

A “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging on the door of a hotel room sends a very clear message.  It states to all passing by that the occupant is focused on something else (like getting some sleep) and would see interaction from you or anyone else as an unwanted intrusion; and rightfully so.  Do Not Disturb signs are like communication stop signs in that their intention is to thwart off any communication before it starts.  They are very useful when we need to focus on a task for a specific period.  In such a case, a Do Not Disturb sign sends the appropriate message at the appropriate time.

Have you ever considered that we may be unintentionally displaying Do Not Disturb messages to those closest to us?  I’m not saying we’re walking around with hotel-style Do Not Disturb  signs around our necks; that would be silly.  However, what message might we be sending to a spouse, a child, family members, or a friend who is with us when we choose to bury our faces in a smartphone, tablet, or some other object that has captured our attention?

Sure, there are occasions where an implied Do Not Disturb is necessary, but the concern is when this type of behavior becomes such a habit that we are not even aware how often we’re sending a message, through our actions, that we would rather not be disturbed or inconvenienced by the interactions of another.

In the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy, “you might have your Do Not Disturb Sign out” if:

  • You are with someone significant to you and you’re more concerned about responding to smartphone alerts than you are about the person you’re with.
  • You arrange an evening out with a friend or a group and find yourself more interested in “capturing the moment” for your Facebook friends than you are about building relationships with the people you invited out.
  • People often ask you if you heard what they said or if they make comments that you seem too distracted to be interested in what they’re saying.

Granted, not all Do Not Disturb signs come in the form of smartphones and social media, but that seems to be a significant culprit in light of today’s technology.

This is not a cry to eliminate social media and smartphone technology from our lives.  Far from it!  Rather, it is a reminder that our actions can often send unintended messages that we may not even be aware we’re sending.   As such, we should be mindful of what we’re doing when we interact with those closest to us.  If we need to put our focus somewhere other than the person we’re with, let’s kindly tell them that our focus is currently somewhere else and arrange to connect with them at a time when we can give them our attention.  Better yet, unless it’s an emergency or something critical, give them your attention in that moment.

Letting People Know

During our Thanksgiving dinner this year my mom asked a question of everyone at the table.  She wanted hear from each person about someone who has had an impact on our life over the past year and what that impact was.  What a great question and conversation starter.

As everyone shared, it was evident that we had all been blessed by the kindness of other people that had been willing to make meaningful contributions to our lives.  However, the conversation didn’t end there.  After everyone had shared, my mom took it one step further.  She encouraged each of us to contact the person we talked about, be it with a phone call, letter, or email, and let them know the impact they had had on us.

What a great suggestion!  Most people I know want to make an impact in the lives of others, but I wonder how many of them have actually been told that they indeed made an impact.  My guess is that the number is rather small.  Sadly, it’s likely the impact people have made in the lives of others is often not talked about until someone’s funeral or memorial service.

I don’t want to wait until someone’s funeral to talk about their impact on my life.  I’d rather tell them while they’re still around.  Therefore, I’m going to do what I’m mom suggested and write some letters, not only to the person I mentioned, but to others who have impacted me as well.

So who has impacted your life?  Who has made a difference to you or has made your life better just by their presence and willingness to invest their time into you?  As my mom did for us, I encourage you to let them know?  Make a phone call, send an email, fire off a text, or send a hand written note.  It doesn’t have to be something lengthy or formal.  It can be as simple as a couple of sentences stating what they have done for you, how it has impacted you, and your gratitude.

Imagine the impact your words of recognition and gratitude could have one someone who has impacted you.

 

 

Connecting With Those You’re With

I was out to dinner with a group of 6 people earlier this week.  At one point during the meal something funny was said, and one of the people at the table laughed out loud with one of those great infectious laughs that make other people that hear it begin laughing as well.  It went on for several minutes.  It was great!

Several times prior to this uproarious event there were instances when most of the people in the group were on their smart phones at the same time, either looking up someplace to eat, or just checking in on social media.   It’s always weird to me when a group of people that have made an effort to gather together spend so much time on their phones seeing what other people, that aren’t present, are up to.

After the meal I was thinking about the person’s infectious laugher and how it created a shared experience that was enjoyable and created a connection between everyone at the table.  I also thought of the times when folks were all on their cell phones.  There was no connection or shared laughter when people’s faces were buried in their phones.   The only shared experience we had at those times was that we were all occupying the same space.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I think if you’re going to make an effort to get together and spend time with people in person, you shouldn’t be looking at your phone to find out what other people are doing, or what you might be missing out on.  I personally have never had an enjoyable shared experience with people who are all sitting together focused on their smart phones and disconnected from one another.

With the holidays upon us, we’ll likely have several opportunities to gather with others over a meal, for drinks, or just for the sake of spending time together.  Be mindful during these times about connecting with the people you’re present with, and consider leaving the smart phone in your pocket or purse.

And if you’d really rather not connect with the people you’re gathered with, it begs the question… what are you even doing there?