6th September 2010
Technology – how to make it work for your relationship
Let’s face it technology is fabulous! It helps save lives, gives us instant access to knowledge and information as well as positively connects us in ways that were never previously possible. Take this blog entry for example – technology facilitates my ability to share experiences and knowledge with you as well as gather feedback and build a community with like minded people. None of which was possible as little as ten years ago.
That said, what is really catching my attention right now is the number of people who are using technology, in particular email, text and instant messaging, as a way to get their point of view across, express frustrations, avoid or provoke confrontations and even call someone to action. I am hearing, in equal measures, that using technology as a primary form of communication for these purposes means interactions oscillate between positive and connecting and messy, time consuming, frustrating and disconnecting.
This leads me to the question ‘Why does this happen and what do you need to do to ensure you have more positive and connecting experiences when using these forms of technology?’
Where does it all go wrong?
Neurobiology seems to hold some of the answer as it shows that by using technologies such as email, text or instant messaging you are cutting off access to all the non-verbal communication such as facial expressions, body movements, eye contact and tone of voice. All of these are registered and interpreted through the right side of the brain.
This means that you are predominantly using the left side of your brain which is responsible for your logical, literal and lateral functions. By reducing the use of the right side of the brain you diminish your ability to reach an empathic state as easily or quickly as you would if you were interacting face to face.
Experience shows that if you cannot empathise with the other person you are unlikely to really understand their experiences and to find a truly positive way forward.
Seven steps to having more positive, connecting experiences
Bearing the neurobiological aspect in mind, focus your attention on what you can actively to have more positive, connecting experiences. I invite you to consider the following seven steps as part of your strategy.
1. Think before you ‘send’
Before sending any correspondence ask yourself ‘How will this deepen the connection in the relationship?’ If you come up with at least one strong positive then actively write these into your communication. This will help the other person know you have really considered what you are doing and that you are committed to positively moving the relationship forward through your email, text or instant message. If you cannot find a positive - don’t send it – sleep on it and then take another look at it in the morning. If you still cannot find a positive – ditch it!
2. Share your intention
It is really important to articulate your intention behind your communication. This allows the other person to view your communication as a way to connect rather than disconnect. An example of this might be ‘I know we are struggling to find resolution around ‘X’ right now but it is my intention to do everything I can to stay connected to you and work this out together. I feel it might be helpful to give us both a little time to digest what each of us is trying to say by writing down and sharing my thoughts and feelings with you. That way we can reflect on it and maybe set a time aside to talk when we get home tonight.’
3. No blaming and shaming
When you are angry, in pain or really frustrated you are more likely to use aggressive or attacking language and this never helpful in relationships. In fact it is more likely to create defence and resistance in the other and this seldom leads to anything other than disconnection and outright ‘war’. Try to keep your language as positive as possible.
4. Own your feelings
There is a huge difference between saying ‘you make me feel’ versus ‘right now I feel’. It is far more helpful to say ‘right now I feel ....’ as it allows the other person to understand that you know you are responsible for your feelings and that while their actions may trigger a particular feeling in you they are not responsible for what you feel.
5. Own your stories
This is particularly important as it reassures the other you are aware you are talking about your experience of them versus telling them who and what they are and how they experience something. An example of this might be ‘I find myself making up the story that you stayed out last night as a way to punish me and this has kicked off my feelings of insecurity and frustration. I want to step out of my story so would really appreciate having a dialogue with you about what we each experienced last night’.
6. Ask for a dialogue
In more complex and difficult situations, rather than sharing everything by via technology, invite your partner to dialogue face to face. You can share by email/text your positive intention for your dialogue which helps your partner feel reassured that you want to use the dialogue as a way to build the relationship versus a place of attack, blaming and shaming.
7. Don’t make assumptions
With the non-verbal communication removed you may find yourself making assumptions about what the other person is trying to say to you. This shows up when you add a particular tone or hold a particular attitude when reading their correspondence. If this is the case step into a place of curiosity and ask them to tell you more. This way you are more likely to gain a level of clarity around their experience, let them know you are genuinely interested in their experience and help you stay out of reactivity.
Sure, all of this takes time and practice but it will substantially improve connection and reduce the amount of time you spend in difficult and conflictual interactions. Give it a go and if you’re up for it share your experiences with this community.
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