Why We Should Go Back to Face-to-Face Talks.
And how mere texting is an unworthy substitute.
(Originally posted on kayatoastforthesoul.com)
As some of you might know, I've been working on a new project.
It's a ground-up initiative, meaning that I started it out with a few other ordinary folks who just wanted to make a difference in our society.
What was the difference we wanted to make?
Well, we wanted to create a more connected society - to battle the silent epidemic that a third of our population is feeling - that is, loneliness.
We also wanted to create a bridge for the mental health treatment gap - an avenue where people can reach out to talk when they don't think their problems are at the stage they need to go for counselling or therapy.
Or, for another group, a safe place where people can reach out when they are afraid of seeing a mental health professional, so we can share what the experience is really like and encourage them to go if they feel ready.
So, with this big dream in mind, we set up a virtual online platform that pairs people with friendly listeners. Any Singaporean can now schedule a session to speak to a Hear Bud - namely, another Singaporean who is trained and willing to listen in on your troubles, problems, struggles, and just talk it out.
It isn't therapy. It isn't counselling. It's not coaching or advice-giving either. It's simply a safe place to connect with another human being and be heard.
And we named it, drum-roll please, It All Starts Hear.
Get it? The pun on here and hear? Haha. Ya you get it.
Anyway, it's still in the works and we're just a week and a bit in. We've only got a small growing bunch of HEAR BUDs, but already, we've had quite the number of bookings!
Some people just wanted to talk about their work stress or unhappiness, some people wanted to share their anxieties. Others are just feeling a little lonely and just want to have a chat. There really is no problem too small to talk about.
Before all that though, I had to test out the online zoom call function to make sure everything worked.
And that's what this little story is about.
I am moderately close to an ex-colleague of mine - let's call him Jim.
I haven't seen Jim for a while now, no thanks to the pandemic, but we still text on and off on WhatsApp. It's the usual fair of:
"Hey, how's work going."
"We should catch up soon."
"Ya, hopefully the COVID restrictions ease up next month."
"Yup. Let's plan a time then"
And so on.
The thing about texting on WhatsApp, or any other messaging platform for that matter, is that they are not an adequate substitute for real connection.
They are interrupted, rapid-fire, short-bursts of texts, where we are often distracted during the process. I mean, how many times have you texted someone while watching TV?
Thanks to the smartphone, my conversations with many people in my social circle don't involve eye contact anymore. I have a whole bunch of friends and acquaintances that I haven't seen in months or even years!
Yes we text from time to time, I even catch up with their lives on Instagram, but is that really the same? Have you likewise been replacing real conversations and authentic human catch-ups for mere words on a screen?
Well, let's get back to Jim.
We were texting via WhatsApp just last week, and I was telling him about this new initiative I was working on.
Then a thought hit me. I asked him if he could help me test out the booking function of the new platform and whether the automatically-triggered zoom call links and invites work.
He happily agreed.
So our "talking" session came and I logged in. Jim texted to say he was going to be late. He got called into a meeting last minute. Oh how interruptive remote working can be - but an article for another time.
Jim eventually joined in and the first thing we talked about was, wow, it's really been a while since we've seen each others faces. His hair was longer and he looked a little bit fairer, I mused.
The zoom call also enabled me to see his surroundings. I was curious about his room - I've never seen it before. So Jim showed me his computer setup, and then took me for a virtual tour around his house.
In exchange, I did the same and gave him a virtual meetup with my dogs.
Then we started talking about his work - what he was up to, how the old team has been, how was my ex-boss doing etc. Somehow or another, the conversation gravitated toward some of his stresses and troubles at work.
He shared about how he often had to work into the night. How a team mate recently left and he had to take over the work without much of a proper handover. He also talked about how there were too many stakeholders pressuring him for time, and each day he felt like he was running lower and lower on energy.
As he was sharing, I could see the worry lines on his face. His brows were furrowed. He was genuinely concerned about his burdens at work. I could sense this from the tone of his voice and the ways his eyes narrowed as he talked about each stressful event.
By having this face-to-face talk, despite it being on Zoom, it created a space to have a real conversation. At least, so much more than if it was just through text!
And through face-to-face talks, we gain the capacity for Empathy.
I felt for Jim. I could really put myself in his shoes and imagine what he was going through. It drew out the innate desire to want to help him.
An important point here too is that, sometimes, a mistake we all make with wanting to help is to jump straight to giving advice or problem-solving. It's a rookie mistake amongst inexperienced therapists or counsellors too.
Instead, most people often feel better by simply being listened to. They feel heard and validated. That their struggles are real and they can talk about it, instead of it just floating around in their heads.
So you can really help best by simply listening and understanding. Feel what the other person is feeling. Have empathy.
Feeling Empathy is such a human thing to do too. It's what sparks love and real connection. And our capacity to empathise works best when we are looking each other in the eye, or are in the presence of the other.
Empathy is diminished when we swap real conversations for texting.
Digital communication does not provide the vulnerability and the real-time responsiveness required for genuine human connection.
In fact, much research has shown that Texting diminishes our capacity for empathy, as well as reduces the depth and length of conversation, and corresponding feelings of closeness and trust.
We have to make the space for real conversations in our lives. It probably is already something that you're really craving for, even though you might not know it yet.
I got a text message from Jim a while after the call. Here's what he said:
"Hey, thanks for the call earlier. I didn't know this but I probably needed someone to talk to. I feel a little better now. Hopefully we can chat again soon?"
That's the power of face-to-face conversations. So make some time for real authentic face-to-face talks in your life.
It will help you feel better.
And if there's no one you feel like you can really talk to - well - I'm hear.
Oh wait, I meant here. Or is it Hear? I'm confused now.
Bye and talk soon :)
P.s. Thanks Jim. You know who you are.
Thanks for reading! Do make some time to really speak to someone face-to-face. That's what real connection is all about. Take care!