bigstock-Group-of-Business-People-Using-701328761-310x233Try a “No Toys at the Table” policy for sales reps.

When did it become the norm to answer the phone during dinner or to check email while having a conversation? We’re so wired for 24/7 connectivity that we have developed FOMO—fear of missing out.

The unfortunate result: While we stay up-to-date on what’s happening online, we’re not paying attention to the people right in front of us.

Unless you’re a doctor on call or you’re waiting for an emergency call from your family, you don’t need to be glued to your phone at all times. There’s nothing so important that it excuses neglecting your relationships, especially for those of us who work in sales.

What is sales without sales reps making time to build, nurture, and expand their relationships? After all, without relationships, salespeople will never earn the right to get referrals.

Stop Texting, Start Talking

According to Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor and author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, our always-connected society isn’t just hurting our relationships. It can also be damaging to our mental health.

In her well-researched New York Times article, “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk,” she uses children as an example:

A few years ago, a private middle school asked me to consult with its faculty: Students were not developing friendships the way they used to. At a retreat, the dean described how a seventh grader had tried to exclude a classmate from a school social event. It’s an age-old problem, except that this time when the student was asked about her behavior, the dean reported that the girl didn’t have much to say: “She was almost robotic in her response. She said, ‘I don’t have feelings about this.’ She couldn’t read the signals that the other student was hurt.”

The dean went on: “Twelve-year-olds play on the playground like 8-year-olds. The way they exclude one another is the way 8-year-olds would play. They don’t seem able to put themselves in the place of other children.”

One teacher observed that the students “sit in the dining hall and look at their phones. When they share things together, what they are sharing is what is on their phones.” Is this the new conversation? If so, it is not doing the work of the old conversation. The old conversation taught empathy. These students seem to understand each other less.

If that sad reality doesn’t wake us up to the new dangers in our multiscreen world, I don’t know what will. Thankfully, Sherry says there is still hope for our society, and for our children. Read the rest of her article to find out why.

Put Down the Damn Phone

It’s not just children whose relationship-building skills are taking a hit. Sherry quotes data from the Pew Research Center that proves grown-ups need a refresher course in phone etiquette too. Apparently, 82 percent of adults feel the way they use their phones in social settings hurts their conversations. Yet, 89 percent admit to using their phones during the last social gathering they attended.

This stat should be particularly worrisome for sales leaders and their sales reps. In our profession, face-to-face conversations and strong relationships aren’t just a nice bonus. They’re how we build our pipelines, get referrals, and boost our careers.

The rule at my house and in my business: “No toys at the table.” Try that strategy. Pay attention to the people in front of you. Connect with your colleagues, your prospects, and your customers. Have conversations. Real conversations.  I promise you won’t regret it, and you’ll have the answer to “What is sales”?

To learn more about balancing technology with relationship-building, check out my latest book, Pick Up the Damn Phone!: How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal.

Connect with No More Cold Calling

Follow Joanne on Google+ or Twitter @ReferralSales, or connect on LinkedIn and Facebook.