The Conversation Hit-and-Run

If you really want to impress people and be well-liked, it has nothing to do with taking a perfect selfie or posting a really funny Kanye West meme. Anyone can do that.

If you want to be popular in a meaningful way, all you really need to do is present others with authenticity and your focused attention.

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Choosing what we say and how we say it can go a long way to improving the way that we are perceived in both professional and personal relationships. Even something non-verbal like a smile has transformative power on both the person doing it as much as the recipient, so effective communication is not really that mysterious. It just has to do with fine-tuning the ways in which we commonly engage with others, and being a little more purposeful in how we do so.

We are human. We are innately driven by ego and we can’t help but feel ourselves validated by the attention and companionship of others. So much of our identity is tied directly to our personal orientation in the outside world and those populating it alongside of us. A perceived lack of attention and companionship can drive us to behave in ways that are destructive to others and ourselves. Bearing this in mind then, it’s vitally important to our well being and self-perception that we sculpt social exchanges with meaningful dialogue and interaction that goes beyond the click of a mouse and empty questions for which we cannot even pay attention long enough to receive the reply.

Unfortunately many of us are so disconnected as a result of our digital culture that we attempt to fulfill this primal need for attention and companionship with chintzy substitutes like the volume of likes we receive in response to a photo or status update. Addiction to Facebook likes is a real problem. It seems like a quick and easy substitute for the true nourishment of authentic conversation and face-to-face human interaction. But in reality it’s like subsisting on a diet of fast food which tastes good for the mere seconds it takes to consume it, but soon leaves you feeling more depressed and wondering why you don’t feel or look as good anymore. Instant gratification leaves much to be desired.

We are training ourselves to put a premium on frivolous and nebulous interactions with a faceless audience instead of being enriched and made whole by engaging in meaningful, authentic interactions with the people who we physically encounter around us when we take a moment to look up from our smartphone. Businesses are guilty of it too. We can get caught up in competing for the love of a fickle audience instead of tending to the low hanging fruit of our clients, friends, and family who are right there in front of us already. If we define ourselves primarily by a volume of followers, likes, and retweets, we will inevitably find ourselves more isolated and lonely than ever before. It’s a popularity contest with no real winner.

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How often have you interacted with someone and when they asked, “How are you?,” instead of pausing to reflect on your answer you mindlessly chirped “Fine!” only to realize that they had already exited the room or turned their attention to something else / someone else — your little, twinkling, Polly-wants-a-cracker exclamation of “Fine!” fluttering downward in a sad arc of dejection, and then getting crushed mercilessly underfoot by the next passerby? It’s like your brain short-circuited and you suddenly developed conversational Tourette’s syndrome, right?

Or how many times have you perpetrated this conversational hit-and-run yourself by asking a question which ends up serving as a verbal diversion while you promptly make a beeline for your actual goal or destination? I have done it myself and we are all guilty of it at least occasionally. While conversational hit-and-run is not typically a malicious phenomenon, it is nonetheless a habit that should be curbed if you want to be more successful or better liked by your peersYou’ll find the incidences of it are especially common with the following phrases:  “I’m sorry” ;  “Thank you”  ;  “How are you?”

We don’t realize it but the cumulative effect of this behavior is truly dehumanizing to others and to ourselves. Furthermore we don’t appreciate the damage it causes and rarely stop to consider a change because it seems so harmless. I don’t mention this to frighten you or shame you, but to empower you to be a little more aware of how you connect with others so that you can be better understood and feel yourself more meaningfully engaged with others. 

Words are funny. They can be weaponized and cause unimaginable damage, and they have transformative healing powers when applied with care. This is becoming more and more important as the Internet and social media have both broadened the methods of human communication while simultaneously moving us away from the more direct and traditional means of communication. 

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While next in public, take a moment to observe the people around you. Are they hunched over a compact piece of technology, faces illuminated by the bluish glow of a smartphone or tablet?  Or are they laughing, frowning, gesturing emphatically, and verbalizing face-to-face with their companions? In the news nowadays, you read horrific stories of people getting hit by cars and busses because they can’t even look away from their handheld device long enough to safely cross the street. Did you know you can even get a ticket for not paying attention while in a public crosswalk? People are literally zombie-walking into oncoming traffic because they are too absorbed in tweeting or catching up on the latest Huffington Post article.

I know you’re busy. I know you’re on a deadline. I know you’re late for an important meeting. But just remember, no matter how fast you go, we are all headed to the same destination. None of us get out of this alive, so what’s the rush? You can spare the two minutes it takes to plant your feet firmly on the ground, look someone squarely in the eyes, and put some actual intention behind the words that would ordinarily come flying out of your mouth like a ventriloquist’s dummy compelled by an unseen hand. Don’t fall victim to parroting habitual questions or offering knee-jerk responses that fill air space but do little to cultivate a real bond between yourself and others.

As responsible citizens living in this fabulously fast-paced world of digital revolution, we must occasionally force ourselves to PAUSE. Take a breath. Look around. Focus. Consider the impact of the things that we say or the questions that we ask.

Let’s collectively set an alarm and wake up from this social media-induced stupor. Let’s walk with a good friend to the coffee shop, discussing real thoughts and feelings, and let’s make eye contact with the people we pass on the street, and with the barista who prepares our overpriced, overcomplicated, yet remarkably delicious beverage. Let’s smile and ask them about their morning with the intention of listening to the response. Let’s walk along the beach and enjoy a sunrise without needing to take a photo, filter or otherwise, for Instagram, and let’s be a little happier because we had the courage to make tangible connections with the physical world around us today.

Implementing any of these practices is ultimately a personal choice… but life is full of daily choices, and tomorrow is a new day.

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