When did you last have a really good face-to-face conversation with a friend? So much of our time has switched to texting, whatsapping and Facebooking that depending on our age, we’ve either become lazy or lost the skill of face-to-face contact almost entirely.
Spending time with friends, really listening to what they are saying and taking on both verbal and visual signs is part of what makes us human. Yet the average person now devotes a mere 6.8% of their life to this according to a recent global study on the topic. We believe we don’t have the time to talk. Our lives appear to have sped up and we have more and more to do in less and less time. Yet that’s just a perception. We use social media as a replacement to face-to-face, convincing ourselves it’s a quicker way to fit in keeping our friendships in check. And the more we do this, the lazier we become. I know, I fall foul to this notion each and every day.
Environment and Behaviour journal published research that highlighted that even having a mobile phone on the table whilst you are having a face-to-face conversation actually diminishes it. Subconsciously it’s distracting, making the other person feel ‘less listened to’ and the conversation ‘less fulfilling’. The findings were quite remarkable. And according to a recent poll, 76% of US women checked their social media at least 10 times when out with friends compared with 54% of men.
Which brings us onto the subject of loneliness, something which is set to become an epidemic in the UK. Here are some stats on the subject:
- Over 9 million people in the UK – almost a fifth of the population – say they are always or often lonely, but almost two thirds feel uncomfortable admitting to it (British Red Cross and Co-Op, 2016)
- 63% of adults aged 52 or over who have been widowed, and 51% of the same group who are separated or divorced report, feeling lonely some of the time or often (Beaumont, 2013)
- 59% of adults aged over 52 who report poor health say they feel lonely some of the time or often, compared to 21% who say they are in excellent health (Beaumont, 2013)
- A higher percentage of women than men report feeling lonely some of the time or often (Beaumont, 2013)
- 17% of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and 11% are in contact less than once a month (Victor et al, 2003)
- Loneliness is a bigger problem than simply an emotional experience.
- Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health: lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse for us than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity.
- Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%.
Humans are designed to be social and it’s our ability to communicate that has enabled us to evolve and survive as a species. It’s not difficult to see that loneliness can lead to depression, substance abuse and eating disorders. It’s hugely bad for our mental and physical wellbeing. Claire Hegarty, an NLP expert and hypnotherapist says that “only 7% of what we communicate is through words. An additional 38% is from our tone and 55% is expressed through body language”. So using platforms such as text and email means we misinterpret a huge amount of what the other person is saying. We know this well as most of us will have experienced this in some form or another.
So rather than sending yet another message today, pick up the phone and invite your friend to lunch or for a drink together. The only person standing in the way of improving your own wellbeing, as well as that of others, is you. Or when you go down to the shops next, say hello to someone, start a conversation, give someone a compliment. The positive effect of a positive exchange will last the whole day through.
One of our presenters, Phil Parker, shares his tips for creating successful conversation:
- Listen to what the other person is saying, not what you think they are saying or what you want them to say. This requires practice and awareness because we are so often absorbed in ourselves that we generate our own version of what others are saying, meaning that the same conversation can go off in different directions according to what each thinks the other is saying, rather than what they actually are.
- Everyone has a unique way of communicating, from the speed at which they talk to their tone and intonation. If you adjust your style to be more in line with the person you’re talking to, your message may come across more easily.
- Pay attention to the other person’s choice of words. If they say “sofa” but you reply with the word “settee” it can imply that you’ve not paid full attention to what’s been said and, subconsciously, they can disconnect from what you’re saying.
- Read gestures to gauge how engaged a person is with what you’re saying. If they are yawning, looking at their phone or answering in monosyllables, then they may have disengaged from the conversation. Try asking them a question to re-engage their attention.