childhoodgamesThis childhood game taught us an important lesson: You can’t listen and talk at the same time.

Remember the tin-can phones we made as children? We had lots of fun constructing them with our friends, and then seeing how far apart we could get and still hear each other. Just in case you never did anything this low-tech, the premise is simple: You connect two cans with a long piece of string, stand far enough away from your partner to pull the string taut, and then take turns talking into the cans. (For detailed instructions, read “How to Make a Tin-Can Phone.”)

In an age where everything is “appified,” the idea that something so simple could be so much fun is lost on a lot of people! If only all our interactions were filled with this kind of simplicity. Thanks to technology, we have practically endless ways to communicate. But we’ve lost the art of conversation.

What Tin Cans Taught Us About Communicating

The cool thing about the can with the string was that one person spoke and the other person listened. There wasn’t any other choice. Your microphone and speaker were one and the same. So two people couldn’t talk at the same time.

Imagine if we adopted that strategy today. If we shut up while the other person spoke. If we didn’t check email while we were on the phone. If we fully listened to the person on the other end of the line (or even sitting in front of us!).

The next time you’re out in public, take a look around you. Notice all the people looking down at their mobile phones, even when they’re “talking to” real, live people. It’s become acceptable in some circles to answer the phone, check sports scores, or post on social media while at dinner. What happened to actually connecting with people, enjoying conversations, looking others in the eye, exchanging ideas, or even flirting?

As a society, we’ve become addicted to technology, and we abuse the heck out of it. Everyone’s on their smartphones all the time—at meals, in airports, in line, at home, even in bed. It’s called FOMO—fear of missing out. However, when you have your eyes glued to a device, keeping up with what’s going on “out there,” you miss out on the people in front of you.

Your Sales Career Is at Risk

Technology addiction isn’t just bad for your personal relationships. It can also kill your sales career. If you’re bringing too much technology to client meetings, you may soon find yourself with a lot more time to check your friends’ status updates. Your company, colleagues, and customers look to you for insights and opinions. They expect you to ask good questions, listen well, and craft a thoughtful response. To do that, you must be present for the conversation—not distracted by cat videos.

Technology is making us bad listeners; many salespeople think they don’t have to listen at all. They think they can communicate by clicking buttons—sending emails, texting, sending messages via social media, and cold calling from scripts. But a script is not a conversation; it’s a one-way pitch.

Don’t Undervalue Your Voice

Email and texts are perfectly fine for sharing information quickly. And social media can be a great way to connect with new people and start conversations you might not otherwise have had. I’ve met people from all over the world using social media and had some really interesting discussions—most of which I eventually took offline. I wanted to hear their voices, to hear them laugh or even smile, and to have an actual back-and-forth conversation, whether it’s on the phone or in person.

Ray Ozzie, founder of Talko, agrees. As he puts it, “Amazing things can happen when we talk with each other. Thoughts are shared, ideas formed, and problems solved. When you see nothing but words and numbers, it becomes very mechanical and very transactional. But when you hear the sound of someone’s voice, it really brings it much closer to home.”

When Ray noticed that people weren’t calling each other, he invented Talko—an app that brings calling and messaging together in a really interesting way. The company’s brilliant tagline: “For your eyes, ears and voice—not just your thumbs.” (Love that!)

Maybe this is the new can with the string? I don’t know, but I just signed up.

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