Confession. I’m a neighbor ignorer. You know, I’m on my way out the door, and sometimes I pretend I don’t see Neighbor John or Neighbor Alice. I kind of look straight ahead and and make a beeline for my car door. I’m not proud of it, but there you have it. My husband, Bill, on the other hand, always has a kind word for everyone. No. Matter. What. Sometimes I think he’s left the building, and thirty minutes later I’ll see him out in the front yard chattin’ it up with someone. He’s a neighbor magnet. People love him. Truth be told, I feel like I’m missing out.
Maybe you don’t ignore your neighbors, but let’s face it, today it’s easy to fall into the trap of interacting with people almost exclusively with our computers and smart phones. And we love that, right? Email and texting can save time and make disseminating information a breeze. For sure! But it’s so convenient that it’s often tempting to exclusively “message” someone instead of speaking directly to them, even when their desk might be just a few cubicles away or when you haven’t actually heard your friend’s voice in ages.
Tim Schultheis, my good pal, and the Artistic Director at Vogue Magazine, has a word of advice for our electronic obsessed world. He notes, “Technology is a fantastic tool, but there’s nothing like peeking your head into someone’s work space and having a person-to-person, real-life chat.” At his Vogue office in NYC, Tim makes a point of trying to connect with his co-workers at least once a day by actually getting up from his desk and going to talk to them even though he could just as easily email them. Old fashioned? A waste of time? “No way,” he says. “When possible, I like to have that personal connection with people that you can only get with a face-to-face conversation.”
Caroline Webb, the author of How to Have a Good Day (one of my new favorite reads chocked full of ideas and tips on how to improve our work lives) agrees. She explores this modern day dilemma in her book and must-read chapter entitled: “Relationships: Making the Most of Every Interaction.” According to Webb, people spend about a third of their lives at work, or thinking about work, so “Our interactions with colleagues and customers are hugely important. A good conversation at work can encourage us, amuse us, or fill us with pride and purpose. It can make all the difference to the way each day feels.”
So do we NEED to actually talk to other people? And, if so, why? According to Webb, “When we really connect with someone, however fleeting it is, we all know how great it feels. There’s the click of mutual understanding and a sense of ‘being on the same page.’ We can enjoy an easy laugh and a confidence shared. It can happen with a clerk in a store, or with a colleague, or with our spouse (or NOTE TO SELF: NEIGHBOR!!!). This feeling of affinity and openness makes everything feel easier, even when you’ve got serious stuff to talk about.”
With that in mind, I’m turning over a new leaf. I vow not to be a neighbor ignorer any longer, especially when I see the way our neighbors enthusiastically wave to my husband and flock to see him, full of smiles and excitement to talk. It’s pretty nice!
Tiny Tip Challenge: Take a mini break from emails and texts. Once a day, opt for face-to-face interactions.
Tiny Tip Book Suggestion: Another book that beautifully and movingly explores our human need for connection is the spare yet gorgeously written book, Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf. This novel is a gem whose simplicity belies the deepness of the story.