We have an amazing range of communication tools at our disposal in today’s world. From email and text messaging to Facebook and WhatsApp, we’ve never had so many ways to get in touch, share information and build new connections.
But for all of our state-of-the-art tools and platforms, we’re still human beings talking to one another. And while new technology has improved our lives in many ways, it’s also introduced new communication challenges. If you’ve ever wondered if all of our cutting-edge devices are actually driving us further apart rather than bringing us closer together, you’re onto something.
“Too often we find ways around conversation and go to our phones,” Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT and author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, told Thrive Global. “We lose touch with what each other are thinking and feeling.” Turkle cited a 2015 Pew Research Center study reporting that 89% of Americans said they took out a phone during their last social interaction — and 82% said that it diminished the conversation. And according to global research by Julianne Holt-Lunstad at Brigham Young University, our social connectedness has health consequences: “Actual and perceived social isolation are both associated with increased risk for early mortality.”
That’s why it’s so important to see the value of mindful communication in every aspect of your life. By all means, adopt and master new technologies as they emerge; doing so will make you a stronger, more agile worker and broaden your skill set. But what will really make you successful is going deeper, making room along the way for a few simple strategies that will help you connect more meaningfully with others on a human level.
As our world becomes more and more digitally connected every day, these skills aren’t just nice to have — they’re differentiators that will give you a major competitive edge. And there are small steps you can take, starting today, to get going.
Subhed: Welcome to the Thrive Guide to Mindful Communication
Thrive Global is a behavior change platform focused on lowering stress and increasing well-being and productivity. The company, founded by Arianna Huffington, creates lasting change in people’s lives by giving them sustainable, science-backed solutions to enhance their performance and overall well-being.
This Thrive Guide will show you exactly how to be more mindful about the way you communicate with others.
Our Thrive Global Microsteps — simple, science-backed changes you can start incorporating into your life today — will show you how to make small improvements to the way you interact with others. You’ll see how easy it is to make new connections and strengthen your existing ones when you put some thought and effort into your interactions — whether one-on-one or in group settings.
We’ll introduce you to the New Role Models who are putting mindful communication methods into practice. For example, Inspired Companies founder Lia MacCallum told Thrive about the valuable email habit she learned from one of her former bosses. Chef Daniel Boulud told Thrive why calling his family in France every Sunday morning is so important to him. And author Andrea Petersen told Thrive how she tries to set boundaries with her phone so it “doesn’t interfere with being in the moment with friends and family.”
Technology can make it more difficult to forge meaningful connections, but many ahead-of-the-curve companies are showing that thoughtfully-designed apps can also help us build healthier communication habits. In our Tech to Thrive section, we’ve curated some great examples.
Between managers and their direct reports, poor communication and miscommunication are all too common. Our Managerial Take-aways section offers advice for managers who want to re-examine the way they speak, listen, and interact with others — because doing so improves relationships and spurs teams to higher levels of performance.
By the end of this guide, you’ll have the tools and practical advice you need to be a stronger and more thoughtful communicator — in every aspect of your life.
Subhed: How Mindful Communication Makes You Smarter, Stronger, and More Successful
Humans are wired to connect. More than almost anything else in life, it’s our relationships with other people — family, friends, co-workers, neighbors — that give meaning and color to our experiences.
But as our personal and professional lives become more crowded with devices and tools to digitally connect, our human connections can suffer. You might find yourself slipping into habits that don’t seem notable at the time, but eventually make you more dependent on new apps, for example, and less likely to participate in the kind of exchanges that can be both fulfilling and productive.
The answer isn’t to reject technology and live out the rest of your days as a hermit — and you’re probably not tempted (most days, at least) to go down that path. It’s the other extreme that’s more likely to draw us in: a life rich in “friends” and “followers,” but poor in authentic human connections. And when we lose our ability to connect with other people — and especially when we cease to see it as important or worth our time — we pay a price. As former United States Attorney General Vivek Murthy writes in Harvard Business Review, “Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s.”
Research shows that when you adopt mindful communication habits, it’s much easier to build and maintain meaningful relationships. It also improves performance at work. For example, if you’re in a competitive environment you may feel your success depends on speaking up and making your voice heard. But studies show that listening is also a powerful communication tool that can drive success, both for individuals and teams. “A great listener has enormous advantages in the world,” writes Julian Treasure, author of How to be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening. “Listening is not a natural ability – it’s a skill that can be nurtured.”
You may be thinking, “I didn’t go to such-and-such college, climb the ladder at such-and-such organization, and painstakingly polish my presentation skills so I could listen more.” But that’s exactly the attitude that holds so many of us back — and it’s easy to adjust. If you’ve ever been part of a meeting where everyone is focused exclusively on making their point, for the sake of making their point, you know effective communication means more than having the last word or the loudest voice.
Consider Google, which in 2016 conducted an internal study to try and understand which components made up the strongest workplace teams. Even at one of the world’s most forward-thinking, data-obsessed companies, the conclusion was about as simple and low-tech as possible. As the journalist Charles Duhigg summarized the findings in the New York Times: “In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.” The study itself, he added, was a reminder that “it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.”
Our ability to communicate and connect isn’t fixed; research shows we can get better at it. And one way to improve your connections with others is by taking time to get to know yourself. According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, learning to understand oneself increases the ability to understand others. And as the study authors write, “Understanding others’ feelings, intentions, and beliefs is a crucial social skill both for our personal lives and for meeting the challenges of a globalized world.”
With the rise of Artificial Intelligence, knowing who we are and what we stand for only becomes more important. As Arianna Huffington writes on Thrive Global, it’s more important than ever for us to be “asking the questions of what it truly means to be human, of what is sacred and irreducible about our humanity, and how to redraw and protect the borders of that humanity as technology is mounting a full-scale invasion.”
At work, being mindful about communication includes finding out how you thrive. While some of us have our best insights in a group setting, bouncing ideas off other people and feeding off of that energy, others require solitude. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, sparked a global conversation about work styles with her best-selling book. Cain told Scientific American, “Most schools and workplaces now organize workers and students into groups, believing that creativity and productivity comes from a gregarious place. This is nonsense, of course. From Darwin to Picasso to Dr. Seuss, our greatest thinkers have often worked in solitude.”
So here’s a simple starting point: think about some of your biggest communication pet peeves. What annoys you? What derails conversations and causes confusion? Which supposedly-revolutionary tech tools actually make things worse? Then think about how you can be more mindful in the way you communicate with others. Once you start this conversation with yourself, being more thoughtful about your own communication style will become second nature — and also open new doors of opportunity.
Now, let’s put all these insights into action.
Subhed: The Changes You Can Make Right Now
Here are three microsteps you can take to communicate more effectively and authentically, starting today.
1. Have a conversation where you mostly listen.
Don’t underestimate the power of silence to help a conversation take a new and revealing turn. Instead of sharing your opinion or changing the subject, give the other person a chance to go deeper.
2. Make your next meeting device-free.
It’s simple: with devices out of sight, you’ll be more focused, engaged and productive, and your entire team will be more creative when they’re not distracted by their smartphones and computers.
3. Take a moment to reflect before giving feedback.
If you’re stressed or rushed, you’re more likely to deliver feedback without compassion or empathy — even if that’s unintentional. Take just a few minutes to yourself — it could be a short walk or even a bathroom break — to collect your thoughts before having an important or difficult conversation.