How to unplug for building meaningful relationships.
Today’s communications technologies make it possible to stay in frequent contact with many people who aren’t physically present with us. Satellites beam webcam videos of soldiers deployed across the globe back to their families at home. Employees on business trips stay in touch with their coworkers through frequent cell phone conversations. Millions of Americans reach out to friends through social networking sites such as Facebook. We’re constantly plugged in to communicate with each other.
But while it’s now possible to contact people anywhere at any time, ironically, it’s often more difficult to truly connect with them. Contact doesn’t necessarily equal connection. That’s because we need to spend time with people in person — face to face — to be able to connect with them in the ways that build meaningful relationships.
Approximately 80 percent of all communication is nonverbal: cues like facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language. That means that, even when we can hear someone’s tone of voice over a phone, we’re still getting only about 20 percent of what he or she is trying to tell us. And some means of communicating — like texting or e-mailing — limits our messages even more.
Even those who regularly contact many people on a regular basis can still be lonely. Despite hundreds of “friends” on online buddy lists and cell phones packed with phone numbers, they won’t enjoy close relationships if they don’t spend enough time with others face to face.
So what about you? How much face-to-face time do you spend with the people in your life? Some of them may actually be quite lonely, despite how plugged in they seem to be. Pray about it, asking God to reveal who those people are and to give you more love for them — love that compels you to reach out to them in person.
People need the encouragement, support, and accountability that can only come in deep ways through face-to-face relationships. Online or over the phone, people can talk and talk, yet never move beyond superficial discussions. Or worse, they can pretend to be someone they aren’t and deceive others. But when people come face to face with other people, they’re compelled to be real with each other and reach out in deeper ways. When you’re willing to share space — not just electronic messages — with others, you can develop the kind of relationships that God will use to help you all grow.
It’s simple to increase the amount of face-to-face time you spend with people you already know. The next time you want to contact a friend, get together for a fun outing rather than just chatting through instant messages. Instead of having your family members eat meals on separate schedules, schedule shared mealtimes at your kitchen or dining room table as often as possible, and talk while you eat. Invite people from your workplace over to your house to get to know them better; invite kids who your kids know from school to come over for play dates.
Reaching out to people you haven’t yet met but who don’t get much face-to-face time with others is simple, too. You can volunteer a bit of time at your local nursing home, hospital, or prison to bring much-needed encouragement to the people there.
Yes, spending time with people face-to-face can be inconvenient. It takes much more time and energy than just sending an e-mail or making a phone call. And yes, face-to-face relationships can be messy, because they draw you much deeper into other people’s lives than simply sending electronic greetings. But when you make sacrifices to get together with people in person, you’ll experience a greater benefit: the opportunity to truly connect and build meaningful relationships together.
Whitney Hopler works as Communications Director at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being (CWB) and has written for many media organizations, from About.com to the Washington Post. Connect with Whitney on Twitter and connect with CWB on Twitter and Facebook.