No WiFi. No Bluetooth.
The more time we’re spending behind the screen, and the more our relationships are mediated by technology, it seems that we are becoming poorer and poorer at real—in real life—interpersonal communication and interactions. Yes, we’re always connected. But maybe it’s time to (relearn) how to connect. Without cords. Without WIFI. Without Bluetooth. You know, in the flesh.
This isn’t a judgment call. And it isn’t to say that one way of connecting is greater-or-less-than the other. It is just to say that, as we sit all day on the computer or smart-phone, just as our muscles weaken and our tendons and ligaments weaken, so do our social skills. That’s OK. We just need to confront reality and hit the gym, take a walk, and remember all those skills we learned in preschool and kindergarten when we were taught how to get along with others. Just like riding a bike, we never forget. But we sure do get rusty when left out in the fog.
I was really excited when I came across a forum posting this morning citing the work of Greg Chapman, the author of The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate . In his book, Chapman outlines what he considers is an exhaustive list of the different ways we express love.
His five “love languages” are: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion), and physical touch (intimacy) . In my opinion, Chapman puts too much of an emphasis on these being “love” languages—because these are really the skills we need to practice with and to connect with others—even casual acquaintances and people we’ve only just recently met. Chapman provides us with a set of tools which we can use to practice the skill set that is becoming so rusty due to under-use. Try them. Can't remember them all? That's OK, do what you can. Does one seem inappropriate? That's also OK. Skip it.
Let’s imagine we’re having someone over for tea, a meal, or a party, and we can see how Chapman’s five love languages might play out.
1. Gifts. Having someone over? This one is easy: offer them something to eat or drink when they arrive. Did you come across a small item—maybe a book—that made you think of them? Give it to them. Just offer them something. “Can I get you a glass of water?” See, its easy!
2. Quality time. If you’re going through the effort to have someone over—and they’re going through the effort of being there—give them attention. Listen to them. Scared? Think of one or two meaningful questions before they arrive. Listen closely and ask follow-up questions. Do not let their answers becomes a prompt for your next story or how you’re feeling. This is about them. Put away electronic distractions (no cell phones, no TV, turn the music down). It’s OK if your visit is going to revolve around these things, just make sure to have time set aside before they start to actually connect.
I've hitch hiked in the US and internationally, and I quickly learned how much people like to talk about themselves, and it makes the time fly. Ask a few questions and a few follow up questions, and you'll be amazed with what people want to share and what a good time they have doing so.
3. Words of Affirmation. Say something nice about your guest but do not be disingenuous. Ever have a friend that says the same complement each time you meet? It starts to feel pretty bad after two or three times. So stay away from, “You look great,” and have it actually be about them. Nervous? Think about it before hand. “I’ve been thinking about that salsa you made the last time we hung out, it was really excellent” goes a lot further than “look you great!” Even, “it always impresses me so much how you’re always on time.” Stay away from a canned compliment.
4. Acts of Service. If you’re having someone over, this one is on the easy list.” Let me carry that for you?” “Can I take your coat?" Just offer to help in some way. Going over to someone’s house? Offer to help with preparations or chores—cleaning up is easy and is greatly appreciated.
5. Physical touch. Ok, back to the hard list. We need to be—first and foremost—aware of how people like to be touched. This will change from person to person and from time to time. What is appropriate will depend on a myriad of factors, including social context, relationship, culture, et cetera. A handshake or a hug is a good starting place.Unless you’re a mafia boss or someone’s grandma, that kiss on the cheek? Don’t do it. And keep that hug brief.
The goal here is not to go through a check-list each time you visit or meet someone new, the goal is to have a scaffolding to rely on to relearn these skills we already know but may have become, well, poor at. Combine the languages as you see fit. Can you offer someone something to eat (number one), while offering an act of service (number 4)? Have fun. Make a point with connecting with those around you. It is, after all, what makes life truely rewarding.