Making connections: real-life edition

Be aware of the life in front of you.We spend a lot of time talking about building our online influence, and less and less about building our offline influence as if real life is not as important. But it should be more so.

I was out to dinner Friday with my family and I noticed a mom and her two kids dining at an adjacent table. It wasn’t five minutes after they arrived that they each pulled out their smart phones. How many times have we seen this? It’s as if the world available to us through that little screen is more important than what’s right in front of us. And that’s sad. It reminds of the lyrics to Cats in the Cradle, written long before the social media entered our lives:

He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you dad
You know I’m gonna be like you”

I once had a boss who in every one on one meeting spent more time looking at his screen – whether Blackberry or laptop then me. I knew he wasn’t listening.  And I gave up trying to connect with him.

Don’t get me wrong, I really value the relationships I’m building online and look forward to translating them into real life interactions. But why is it we’re so tempted by the virtual?

I think it may have to do with the notion of possibility and options. Kind of like gambling. There may be something more valuable, something we might miss out on if we’re not tuned in 24/7. We want to keep our options open and if we commit to the person right in front of us, they’re not. But that mentality is just like the hamster in the wheel. You can never know every opportunity that’s available at all times. You have to make choices.

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

The people in front of us matter a lot. And what message are we sending when we don’t listen with intention? When over 90% of communication is nonverbal, if we’re always checking our online feeds, the message is loud and clear to those around us: they’re not that important. And that means they’re not going to share their most personal thoughts. Their aspirations. They’re not going to reach out to us when they have an opportunity nor are they going to be there when we need them most. It works both ways.

To that end, here are my thoughts for building and maintaining your social capital in the real world (there’s nothing revolutionary here – but can be hard for many in the wired world):

  • If you have an open door policy, make sure your door is open. That means you listen to your team and colleagues when they stop by. With both ears. You don’t multitask (that’s a misnomer because the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you ‘mulittask’ your brain is really tuning in and out of each task.). I’ve turned off my automated email and Twitter alerts to make sure my attention isn’t distracted by constant flashing on the screen.
  • Schedule time for getting work done. That’s the time when your door, your email and instant messaging isn’t open. That way you can be more focused when you invite people in.
  • Make meetings productive. Our tendency to click our way through our days and not be present in real life stems from poor time management. We’ve all spent way more time in unproductive meetings then we should. Making each interaction and meeting count not only builds your credibility. It forces you to get far more done in far less time, freeing you up for more meaningful opportunities.
  • Make sure the time you spend with your kids is quality time. It’s not the amount of time as it  is the quality of time you spend. Listening and engaging regularly – showing that you genuinely care is what matters. So if you only have 15 minutes a day with your child, make that 15 minutes really special. Make them feel like they’re the only thing in your world that matters at that moment.
  • Do the same with your spouse or partner. I know how easy it is to get into daily routines and forget to check in. To have meaningful deep dialogue. Schedule time to reconnect. And listen fully. Listening is hard. It takes concentration, focus. People know when you’re only half there. Be all there.
  • Measure your say/do ratio. How much of what you say you’ll do are you actually doing? Avoid the tendency to over commit. Do less better rather than a lot of stuff poorly. Understand what you’re committing to by listening (yes, listening is the key tool to building your offline capital). Nothing destroys your credibility than poor follow through. I know far too many people who make promises they never intend to keep. And I quickly discount anything they say. I will also go to the mat for people who show up consistently. SHOW UP CONSISTENTLY.
  • Don’t just do what people expect of you all the time. Once in awhile, delight by anticipating needs which comes from listening, paying attention to the emotions behind the words spoken. In real life you have the benefit of seeing the emotion first hand. You’re not guessing – and if you find yourself guessing, just ask. Make sure you understand the message. Get clarity.
  • Schedule time for face-to-face meetings and make them count. They don’t need to be long, you just need to be present and make each minute matter.
  • Learn what matters to those closest to you. And for your customers, learn a little bit about what makes them tick. Why do they get up in the morning? How can you matter to their lives. Goes a long way to building loyalty.
  • Schedule time to check your email and online connections. And make those moments matter. It doesn’t need to be long. Just focused. Here again, listen to understand. In the business world we make everything an ASAP when few really require it. Sometimes letting that email sit there for a bit will cause the sender to solve the issue themselves. Few quality initiatives are executed in a string of sound bites.

Online or off, the same basic rules apply. But in person, you have the richness of all the non-verbal cues. Don’t squander these opportunities to connect and strengthen these relationships. Don’t take them for granted because they won’t be there tomorrow if you do. Carve out time for both online and off. Don’t do both at the same time because you’re not fooling anybody really. Even if you think you are.

I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then

When my daughter says to me, “you really like your phone don’t you?” I know it’s time to spend some quality time with her. She’s nine now and I’m acutely aware how important it is to make our time together matter. Time none of us will ever get back. To bring that point home, we have friends who were expecting the same time as us and had a son four months before our daughter was born. At three he was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma and on February 14th lost his hard fought battle.

Make then happen.  Now.


#UsBlogs – Week Three:

Our theme this week was suggested by our resident award-winning film-maker and contrarian Dan Perez (@danperezfilms).

Klout, and other influence metrics, have always driven lots of conversations and controversy within the #usguys tribe. Now’s the time to read what we collectively think about Klout, influence, and metrics that metter… online and beyond!



A fun way to spice up our blogging efforts, #usblogs is a group weekly blogging game within the #usguys tribe! Every Friday night, we’ll pick a common theme, and blog away until Monday morning. No particular rules or template, no winners either – the benefit is simply to push each other to blog on a great topic, learn, have fun, and start a wider conversation with (hopefully) great diversity in our points of view.

Anyone can participate by suggesting topics, posting articles on their own blog, and of course, reading, commenting and sharing the results!

If you’re already a #usblogs contributor, you know what to do… if you’re #usguys, see below for “How it works”… if you’re not #usguys yet, #usblogs is a great way to jump in and join in the group’s conversation – there is no “qualification” to join our tribe, except a desire to be part of a great group, and participate to our 24/7 chats with an open and positive mindset – welcome!


  1. Dan Perez says:

    Some excellent points, especially “the richness of all the non-verbal cues”, one of the most (if not THE most) important element of face-to-face communication. With words you may fool me, but when I can look into your eyes and study your body language, it’s less likely.
    Very nicely written. Kudos 🙂

  2. Hi Patrick—another beautifully written post! The part of the song you reference that resonates most with me now is when the tables are turned at the end and says “He’d grown up just like me”. But it appears increasingly that we, the parents, are “growing up” just like our kids — it was always the kids with their noses in their devices, but now it’s the adults I see more often with this affliction.

    The online “toy” is not new anymore, and we all need to make sure we are still paying attention to our offline worlds. You’re correct, online opens up such vast worlds that it is sometimes easy to trick ourselves and miss what’s right in front of us. But what’s in front of us may not be there the next time we look.

  3. Gabriella O'Rourke says:

    I loved this post. It hits all the notes hard. Especially the image of people out to dinner and checking their smart phones. I’m ashamed to say I am sometimes that person. Until I get ‘that’ look from one of the kids or DH. Good reminder of how important it is to be in the moment and enjoy our time with our families. Today is Family Day in Canada. I’ve spent the day (and most of the weekend) just hanging out and spending time with the family. Thanks for a great post. Important points worth stating (and restating)…

  4. Patrick says:

    Thank you Gabriella! Glad you were able to spend time with your family away from technology. It’s something we all need to do – and yet often so hard. As is truly being in the moment when our brains run through a never ending task list. We spend so much time planning for the future that we forget to live in the present – and I’m just as guilty of that.

  5. Patrick says:

    The notion of the online toy is important. I wonder how it will impact future generations who’ve known nothing but the ability to always be connected. Will they find new ways to connect. Or will our brains adapt to a new way of being? Part of writing this post was making myself realize areas I need to remember to pull away from the screen. Thanks again for the kind words!

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