It’s one of the great ironies of our age that while more of us than ever before report feeling isolated and lonely, the volume of our communication increases exponentially on a daily basis.
In reaching out to family, friends and colleagues, our default setting is to pick up a device and search for a WiFi signal.
And yet all this digital discourse very often leaves us feeling bereft of genuine human interaction and perhaps less sure of our own feelings and value.
At which point you would be forgiven for expecting this piece to be about switching off your phone in the search for inner peace.
But it’s not.
Instead, it’s a call to arms.
An encouragement to you, to focus not on the strength of your digital signal but on the strength of your connection to yourself and to those around you.
To overcome the new digitally exacerbated divide – between the volume of communication and authenticity of connection.
Fingers-on-screen is a fine way to communicate, but like all communication it is enhanced when you first of all know what’s happening in your head and in your heart. Become aware of this, and adapt it on an ongoing basis, and the way you connect with the outside world will become more authentic and more effective.
In my work as an executive coach, I help people to align their inner beliefs with the way they present themselves to world by using a six part model, called My-Fi. The first three parts of the model are internal, the final three are external.
Number one on the internal list is self-talk.
Using tools and techniques borrowed from cognitive behaviour therapy, we identify the stories that you tell yourself on an ongoing basis, and which directly influence your view of reality. ‘My boss favours my colleague,’ ‘I’ll never get that job,’ and ‘I’m going to die a death at the networking event’ are all examples of self-talk that can quickly become self-fulfilling prophesies.
Self-talk is closely related to, often regulated, by your feelings. Learning to recognise them, understand their origin and being able to openly discuss your feelings is an important step on the road to authentic communication.
Underpinning both self-talk and feelings are the third internal element of My-Fi, which is beliefs and values.
Beliefs are both existential – about the nature of being, about the world and why we are here – and intensely egocentric. Do you believe yourself to be a loyal and loving child and a faithful friend, for example? Or do you believe that life is out to get you?
Your personal values define how you like to behave, and how you would like others to behave. You might value diligence, commitment and stoicism. Or spontaneity, irreverence and affection. All of these, or none of these. But being aware of what you do value will help you to clarify your expectations of yourself and of others.
By this point in the My-Fi process, we’ve moved somewhere closer to recognising an authentic self, which is ready to connect with the outside world.
The first area we look at is your connection with your colleagues, where the first and most important skill is listening. Easy to say, hard to do. Not least because there are three types of listening.
With ‘competitive listening’, you are simply waiting for the other person to finish speaking before you say what you want to say. With ‘passive listening’ you don’t ask any questions or give any feedback about what’s being said. Much better to aspire to ‘active listening’, signs of which include paying attention to every word that is being said, playing back what you have just heard, and mirroring the body language of the speaker.
Next we look at stakeholders. This covers anyone who has an interest in your progress and development – from work-mates and industry contacts to friends and relatives. Taking time to understand how these people perceive you can give some powerful insights that will enhance your connection with them.
Finally, we think about communication with the wider world. If you are speaking as
a company or organisational representative, it’s important to remember that you are also a human being, so draw on your personal experiences to bring your messages alive.
The My-Fi model can help you to align your inner self with the outside world and to achieve greater levels of authenticity in your communication – assuming, of course, that you can still get a decent WiFi signal!