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The Most Important Life Skill

This week, we’re continuing our thoughts on communication and how recent events have changed – for better or worse – how we communicate with each other. 

In watching my three boys lately and how they communicate with their friends, whether via text or on Zoom, it got me thinking about how different things were when I wanted to communicate with my friends when I was their age. For us Gen Xers, when we wanted to talk to our friends, we had to call their house on a land line, talk to their parents first, and then ask to talk to our friends. Then we had to listen carefully for that “click” that meant someone’s mom was listening in! At this point in my house, I’d yell “Mom!! Hang up the PHONE!” and she’d say, “which girl is it?” Talk about unraveling my cool kid image. 

My boys, and honestly, lots of kids older than they are, never had to make these kinds of phone calls. I’m realizing via my own kids and the millennials who work with us at Family Financial Partners that I’m quickly becoming a dinosaur in the communication world, as my way — in-person, phone calls and emails — is being replaced by texts, snaps, and whatever messaging platform is new and shiny. 

While I do believe the world made great technological strides out of necessity in 2020, I also think we’re in for a tsunami of ramifications from these new ways of avoiding all communication that lets us see another person’s face, or hear their voice. If we aren’t careful, this will lead to many miscommunications and misunderstandings moving forward. 

I have found myself somewhat caught in the middle as a parent and business owner, and my unique position between two generations that are so extreme. (Of course my fellow Gen Xers know this is where we’ve always been.) But this is a more profound crossroads than transitioning from signal flags to the telegraph, or from morse code to telephones. I’ve lived through the move from US mail to fax machines and that AOL dial tone, and the voice informing that “You’ve got mail!” We’ve lived through cutting the cord on landlines. We’ve seen the move from cell phones that had to be plugged into your car’s cigarette lighter (even those are a thing of the past now), to sliding keyboard phones, to today’s smartphones that you can just tell what to do, and are more powerful than all the computers of the 1960s combined. 

I’m sure all of those transitions posed challenges to the folks who lived through them. But I believe that what we’re witnessing now – accelerated but certainly not caused by the unique events of 2020 – is a more extreme shift. Society is rapidly accepting new ways to communicate that we never thought we’d see. 

I’ve had to address several of these issues with my kids, and this is more important than any grade they will earn. The importance of their ability to communicate with the diverse people around them in a way that will make their voice heard cannot be understated. As a society, we’re losing the ability to experience the human emotion side of communication when everything is via DM (direct message) instead of a phone call. I’ve got a first-grader whose entire class, including him, is behind because of this very issue. He’ll catch up and be fine, but beyond reading comprehension, I want to challenge him and his two big brothers to work on their verbal communication. I want to encourage them to resolve conflict by picking up the phone and calling instead of hiding behind a text, or, better yet, talking in person and actually making eye contact. 

Right here, I’m going to stop and admit that my mom was right. When my boys are at my parents’ house, she has them put their phones in a designated place until they leave. These devices have made us all socially lazy, but at least while they’re with their grandparents, my kids have to interact in person, and make memories with their family.

I challenge you to stop and ask yourself: when was the last time you put all of your devices away and just had a conversation, in person, with a friend? I know I have been guilty of grabbing my phone many times. Just as my kids know what the rule is with their grandma, I know that what my kids end up doing at my house is a reflection of what Dad is doing. So I’m challenging myself to put my phone down more often, and not multitask. My goal is to model that behavior for them, and try to communicate better myself. This probably won’t change how the rest of the world communicates with us…but it might.

My point is, I believe that the most important skill I can teach my sons is how to effectively communicate with other people. These days, going to college is a requirement. They’ll get good grades and find a school they like. But no matter how smart you are, many opportunities slip away if you can’t communicate well. We can’t all be actuaries. (You know you laughed!)

What changes in communication have you noticed as 2020 unfolded? How are you trying to stay in touch and communicate with your friends and family? What challenges have you faced? We’d love to hear your stories. 

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