Communication is a boon, a blessing, the only way to get things done.
Things that facilitate communication are boons, blessings, necessary to our daily life at work and play.
If the above statements are true, why is burnout higher than ever? Why do we have to manage our communications and contact with so many different people? Why do many of us feel the need to apply a task-management approach more suited for the office to our regular interactions with friends and family?
The problem could be rooted in our attempts to communicate too much. The old adage that you can have too much of a good thing is absolutely true, and when it comes to sharing with other people, we are gorging ourselves sick on constant superficial interactions. At work and at home we are connected with email, internet, land-line, mobile phones, “smart” devices, and an ever-evolving onslaught of social networking vehicles. All of these demand that our brains remain in constant social mode, ready to respond to someone else at a moment’s notice. This is an exhausting state to remain in all day, every day, akin to having your ‘game face’ on nearly every waking minute.
Unfortunately, this constant contact takes a toll on the quality of our communications. We rapidly come to prefer communication methods that appear less intrusive or that allow us to better choose when and where to communicate. We would rather get an email or text than call someone and have a real-time voice conversation. Our interactions then get reduced to little snippets of information that contain no depth and very little real connection. Instead of calling someone to chat about the weekend’s happenings, we “poke” them on Facebook or broadcast a 140 character info-bit on Twitter about Saturday night’s party. Meanwhile, we begin to dread the ringing of the telephone, and eventually start to want to unplug from the social networks and mobile phone (clanging bother-machines that they are).
I certainly fall prey to the lure of these mini-communication moments. My brain gives me a good rush of dopamine when I get a text or someone comments on my Facebook status update. But after a while, the desire to detach myself from that type of communication in favour for meaningful contact with a very limited number of people becomes less of a want and more than a need.
This last week, my husband and I went to an out-of-town wedding and took the opportunity to tack on two days of hiking in the mountains. We reconnected with family we rarely see, and then spent two blissful days out of cell phone range. Not once did I check my email, post a status update, or answer a text. My husband and I chatted a great deal, but also spent a lot of time in absolute silence. The silence was wonderful – we were together mentally and physically, but the noise of the world was hushed out by the tramping of our hiking boots. I didn’t have the slightest desire to post a happy status update or share an Instagram photo of the beautiful trails.
These time-outs should be experienced by even the most enthusiastic and dedicated communicator. If we never give ourselves time to sort out the noise in our own heads without broadcasting it to the world, how will we develop our ability to sort out the noise being exchanged between two people? Communication – even for pleasure – can be difficult and exhausting. We’ve traded quality for quantity. Sometimes, the severe restriction of quantity is the only thing that can improve the quality of the messages we’re trying to get across.
Give it a try. Go out for a day, and leave the cell phone behind. Give yourself the gift of freedom from communication – no status updates, no sharing, no other people’s inputs distracting you away from the communication going on inside your own head. It can be tricky at first, but it quickly becomes wonderfully freeing.