Building Relational Intelligence: Put the Phone Away
Updated: Sep 12
We are human and therefore wired for social connection. Without it, we feel lost, unseen and unheard. Although advances in technology have enriched our lives in many ways, the pull towards the screen impacts our ability to connect.
In 1970, Dr. Pauline Boss coined the term and theory, ambiguous loss.
There are two types of ambiguous loss:
1. When a person is psychologically missing but physically present like when a parent has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s
2. When a person is psychologically present but missing physically like when a partner moves out after a divorce.
These examples of ambiguous loss - disease, and divorce - are layered and complicated and deserve a great deal of airtime. So, for today, I want to discuss the smaller, sometimes unseen or unnoticed, everyday losses of connection.
Today, I want to talk about when a person is psychologically missing but physically present. With access to screens - phones, watches, tablets, computers, etc., - people are now, more than ever physically present with their loved ones but psychologically missing. This struck me in a big way - because, I too, have felt both ends of this.
I have been the one picking up my phone to answer text messages while at dinner with a loved one and I, too, have felt the ping when I lose someone’s attention to their phone while we are in conversation.
We’ve all felt this. The slight pain when we notice the pause between our talking and their answering when someone is media multitasking, their attention going elsewhere. This type of multitasking has a consequence. It can leave a person wondering ‘where can I be seen’? The experience of these small, ambiguous losses, over time, add up and often send someone to look elsewhere for that connection.
Let’s do better. Let’s put down our phones, our watches, our screens and tune into the person sitting across from us or on the phone with us. Let’s give them our most precious resource, our time and attention, hear what they have to say. Let’s connect and do what is in our power to make sure the person who is important enough to have our time and attention leave knowing they’ve been seen.
It’s a small step we all can do to help enhance our connectedness to the people we care most about.