While society has gotten beyond comfortable with spending every waking minute glued to the glow of a phone, television or the blaze of a monitor screen, it is now more important than ever to make the best impression possible when greeted with a true moment of face to face human interaction.
When people are not pinning, liking, swiping or double tapping, they have become less comfortable engaging in true communication. The encroachment of social media upon being truly social has hindered the art of engaging conversations with strangers. Our phones are easily utilized as tools to avoid contact in potentially awkward or uncomfortable situations. Coffee shops filled with patrons wearing headphones gazing at the glare of their laptops, couples seated across one another at restaurants spending more time sharing links than sharing stories about their day are commonplace occurrences in 2015. With the advance of technology, in a world of instant gratification or demoralization via a post or a comment, it has become daunting to voice an opinion or share a view that cannot be deleted or edited.
Try as we might, these trends are undeniable.
I have created somewhat of a career in customer service after spending close to 14 years in industries that required me to put other people first. I spent my early working years in clothing retail, served food and kept drinks full in the restaurant and bar service industries for nearly ten years, before moving on to manning front desks and enjoying consumer communication positions at a technology firm and now in the advertising realm. I was taught early on that eye contact is king, manners are non-negotiable and remaining as approachable as possible was imperative.
I enjoy being friendly- I never think it is odd to smile at strangers or to greet someone with a cordial “good morning” at 5am at my gym. I usually receive very puzzled looks; I call this move the “Do I Know You?”. Oftentimes, my salutation is not returned. My enthusiasm while greeting an old acquaintance recently was received somewhat hesitantly. I could not put my finger on the reason behind the discomfort; I later received a Facebook message from the fellow with an apology that he was not completely sure it was me to whom he was speaking at the time. How embarrassing for us both that my memory placed him perfectly while he had to use a social media tool to recognize me.
In the book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam states that involvement in community increases a person’s biological and mental health. Biologists and psychologists have also shown that physical contact provides biological benefits. Does typing “LOL” on a keyboard have the same benefits as a true laugh shared with others? While the majority of communication is becoming non-verbal, thanks to text messaging and social media, emotions can easily be transferred from person to person without the utterance of a single word- Putnam asserts that if, or when, community loses its physical aspect, many of the subtle benefits that go along with physical face-to-face contact will also be lost.
When I was hired on at BBR, I was asked if I was willing to accept the Traffic Coordinator position on a long-term basis. I needed to take into consideration that I was being hired to be a familiar voice and a friendly face. I take both of these requirements seriously. I know the importance of a warm voice being on the other end of a phone line because I know I like to be welcomed with such when I call a business for assistance or for answers. I know most of our clients by voice, and I love receiving guests at our office. I truly believe there is no substitute to face-to-face communication.
While the world moves forward in artificial intelligence, society must also find a way to place genuine importance on maintaining effective relationships in the real world. Meet a client for coffee, strike up a conversation with your server at lunch, ask your coworker if you can huddle to discuss a project rather than spend double the time emailing one another. Declare phone free time zones in your household and spend real time talking to the people you care about. The Internet articles and social posts can wait.
If you are on Team Kick It Old School, send a line voicing your support or ideas to [email protected]. Let me know if you would like to meet at a coffee shop to make millennials feel awkward by discussing loud music or weird fashion trends while we are at it.