My wife met a friend for lunch the other day. It had been a while and she was looking forward to catching up. But during the meal, her friend took a selfie, posted it on Facebook, and shared every comment in real time. That’s just a little over the top, don’t you think?
I guess it might have been OK if my wife was into that sort of thing, but I’m sure her friend – one of her best friends, actually – knows she’s not. And since both women work and go to school, they don’t have a lot of time to get together and actually talk, which is what they used to do.
So, why do I care? It’s hard enough to find like-minded people you really connect with in California. Besides, my wife needs to have meaningful conversation. She needs friends that are actually capable of listening and paying attention – especially since her husband is sort of deficient in those areas.
Granted, I may not be the world’s greatest listener, but I do know that life is all about relationships. Whether it’s business or personal, you should treat people with respect. Since that seems to be a challenge in our gadget-crazed world, here are some tips to keep you from blowing your relationships:
Don’t post anything you wouldn’t say face-to-face. There was a time when communication was either in person, on the phone or in writing. You had to watch what you said or wrote. Guess what? You still should treat everything you post as if you’re saying it face-to-face. Never use an alias in an attempt to get away with being inflammatory and anonymous. That’s just cowardly and creepy.
No interruptions during a one-on-one meeting. When I was a young engineer, I once sat in my boss’s office while he took one call and visitor after another. I never felt so insignificant and demotivated. I’ve had a rule ever since: I don’t take calls or visitors during a one-on-one meeting. I don’t text or email either. I just don’t. Whatever it is, it can wait. And you know what? In all these years, it’s never been an issue. Never. So why do people do it? Two reasons: they’re selfish and it feeds their deficient ego.
Read it before you post or send it. I’ll never forget the day I intended to forward a moronic email from a coworker, along with a typical sarcastic comment along the lines of “what a clueless dope,” but hit “reply all” by mistake. I nearly had a heart attack. That was 20 years ago. Now I read everything before I post or send. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up doing some heavy editing or even deleting the whole thing.
No calls in the bathroom. When you spend all morning downing cup after cup of coffee at a conference, you can’t wait for a bathroom break. I once made the mistake of taking a call from a female employee on my way in. Everything was fine until I flushed. There was dead silence on her end, then a tentative, “What was that?” HR wasn’t too pleased about it.
Focus on the task at hand. Focus is how you get things done. It’s how you understand what’s going on and solve tough problems. It’s also how you keep from driving into other cars, walking into poles and cutting off fingers in the kitchen. Distraction is the enemy of all those good things. And we’ve never been more distracted than we are today. Focus and discipline. Remember those two words.
Back to my wife’s experience: we all seem to be more focused on recording and posting events than actually participating in them. The sad truth is, the time you spend sharing things online is time you could have spent living but chose not to. Life is short. All you’re doing is making it shorter.
The thing is, living in the moment is only half the equation. When we say live in the here and now, we’re talking about a place and a time. Don’t forget about the place. The real world. That’s where you live.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.