I'm beginning to think "connectivity" has become the most misused word in the English language.
While it has a very specific definition in terms of computing -- the actual capacity for interconnection of platforms, systems and applications -- when "connectivity" is used to describe human interaction, it often seems to mean almost exactly the opposite of what's intended.
With all the furious, rapid innovation in digital communication over the past several years -- from social to mobile, Facebook to FaceTime -- why do so many of us seem so isolated? At work, at home and in our personal relationships, we may be connected, but we are often not connecting.
Maybe it is because we have come to rely on the wrong tools for the job.
In business, I am always a little puzzled when people -- some of whom have flown halfway around the world to be in the same room -- start a meeting by flipping open their laptops and arranging smartphones and tablets in front of them.
I can't help but think, "They all came in with these incredibly sophisticated instruments for connection and interaction -- and then immediately turned them off."
Those devices are not the computers and phones. They are our eyes and ears -- and the focus and mindfulness that comes from really using them.
More and more, it seems that when a device is turned on, a person's attentiveness seems to be powered down. But the danger of distraction is not just about what we miss. It is also what we fail to build or create when our skills are dulled.
Many of us spend so much of our time communicating digitally -- sending and receiving constant barrages of texts, tweets, updates and emails -- that we have lost the basic ability to stop, listen and really understand and get to know each other. As mobile devices become ingrained into the very core of our lives, our interaction is not just easily disrupted -- it has actually started to mirror the way we communicate digitally.
At a recent industry event I attended, I learned that some recent graduates require training in how to have face-to-face conversations during interviews and business meetings. Some people have become so accustomed to communicating with a device that they no longer understand the basics of interpersonal engagement.
Regardless of our age and engagement, though, if we are not careful, our connections can easily become distracted, superficial and transactional. And then we wonder why our relationships with clients feel shaky, our employees lack loyalty and our friends and partners seem distant.
But a solution is often much closer than some realize. In fact, it is everywhere. Or, I should say, we are everywhere.
I truly believe that as human beings we naturally seek and gravitate towards each other. It is amazing how quickly and strongly we can forge deep connections, often with very little effort. But it does take consistency and practice.
It also requires admitting when you are out of practice -- no matter how successful you are. Sometimes the most brilliant and articulate communicators in the world can seem distant and uncomfortable in person. Being present and attentive is not the same thing as being persuasive or influential.
In order to maintain our ability to connect with those around us, we have to vigilantly seek out opportunities to have human interactions that are open-ended and non-transactional. You'll be surprised how many chances you get throughout the day.
Ask your cabdriver if he has kids. Ask your waitress where she grew up. Ask the doorman how his day is going. Listen closely to their answers. You never know who will say something fascinating, illuminating or inspiring.
If you hear something that resonates with you or that you have experience with, respond. Chat for a while. The calls, emails, texts and updates can wait for a few minutes.
Think of it like getting in shape by taking the stairs rather than the elevator. It starts with extra effort, and soon goes from forced habit to something that feels totally natural. With commitment and diligence, these small, daily interactions can make a huge difference throughout your personal and professional life -- gently pulling you away from haphazard digital connectivity and back into the practice of connecting with those around you in a real way. The more you do it, the more you will find your presence, your focus -- and the many different relationships you are in -- getting stronger.