CAREER ADVANCEMENT / JUL. 24, 2014
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Is Your Smartphone Destroying Your Communication Skills?

Smartphone’s are an ever-present element of modern life, with few of us letting them out of our sight for any length of time.  Indeed, a study a few years ago found that some of us even use them whilst making love.

Whilst the devices are designed to improve our communication, there are many therefore who doubt the veracity of that claim, and indeed go as far as to suggest it does the opposite.

One such cynic is Shalini Misra, a psychology professor at Virginia Tech, who has recently conducted research into the role smartphone’s play in both the amount of conversation we engage in, but also crucially the quality of that conversation.

The research team recruited 200 coffee shop visitors, and divided them up into pairs.  Each pair was given a casual topic to discuss.  Each couple was then observed by the research team during the course of a 10 minute conversation on their given topic.

The conversation itself was not recorded, but it was observed to determine whether any of the participants succumbed to temptation and whipped out their phones (or started using one that was sat next to them at the table - as is usually more common).

Nearly 30% of participants could not resist the allure of their phone during a 10 minute conversation

Rather depressingly, the researchers found that nearly 1 in 3 of the groups had one or more participant consult their phone during the short, 10 minute conversation.

What impact did this have?

The researchers wanted to gauge the impact this phone usage had on perceptions of conversation quality.  They did this by asking each participant to fill out a survey in which they described their relationship with their chat partner, and how close they felt to them during the conversation itself.  They were also asked to grade the other person on their listening skills.

Perhaps not surprisingly, in the conversations where one of the people began to use their phone, the participants reported a distinct lack of fulfillment, and also a reduction in empathy towards their partner.

These findings were true, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity and even the mood of the participant.  What’s more, the topic of the conversation did not influence their sense of fulfillment either.  In other words, it wasn’t the topic itself that was enjoyable, but rather the interplay between both sides of the conversation.

You hurt those closest to you

It also emerged, again perhaps not surprisingly, that those most hurt by our easily wandering mind were those closest to us.  When pairs reported a strong level of friendship between them, the use of a phone by one of the party had a huge negative impact on the perceived quality of the conversation.  After all, if you’re close friends, then you’d kind of expect them to pay attention to you, not the latest cat gif on Facebook, right?

The researchers suggested that apart from the blatant rudeness of using your phone whilst someone is talking to you, the act of doing so also causes people to miss the subtle cues that form so much of our communication.  Things like facial gestures, change in voice tone and general body language all tend to go over the heads of someone glued to their phone.  What’s more, you also remove the all important eye contact that is so crucial when establishing rapport.

The message appears simple.  If you’re talking to someone that matters to you, leave your phone out of the loop!

Image sourced: Phone Addiction

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