There was a time before the telephone and the Internet when people wrote letters to each other to communicate remotely, or they spoke in person. Communication was slower than it is today, but people talked to each other.
Today, communication is lightning fast. From a business perspective, it is wonderful. This week I talked via webcam with some homebuyers who are living in New Zealand but will be moving to Minnesota, and on Sunday I helped complete a project with someone who lives in another state. We used e-mail to send a document back and forth, and we talked on the phone a couple of times.
When I travel it is easy to stay in touch. I send messages to friends, family and clients. Some do not even know that I am traveling because I can do my job remotely.
The Internet and cell phones make life much easier but there is a downside. The boundaries between work time and play time are blurred and I sometimes feel too accessible. My contact information is all over the Internet and I am very easy to find, which is good for my business but not always good for me.
A couple of days ago I was with an old friend who I have not seen in a long time. My phone started ringing. I had meant to put it in silent mode, but I forgot. He told me it would be alright if I needed to answer it.
I reached for the phone but stopped myself before I answered and told him that I was with him, and that he is more important to me than a phone call. And I meant it.
I can’t remember the last time that I was with a friend when they weren’t on Twitter, answering the phone or in some text-message conversation. It is rarely an emergency, but they feel the need to stay connected and to be social.
How do people decide that the phone call is more important than the person they are with, or that the iPhone is more urgent than the speaker at the conference or the person sitting next to them at the table? Why is the person on the other end of the electronic device more important than the person we are with? Why do we let them interrupt us, but we don’t let the people we are with interrupt us from the phone call?
It is the same in business. When I am out on appointments and with clients the phone rings. I look at the caller ID and decide if I should answer. If I am in a conversation with a client and another client calls, I won’t answer.
Why would the client on the phone be more important and urgent than the client I am with? It doesn’t make sense to me, but in most cases we deem the caller so important that we pick up the phone immediately. There are situations in which I do have to respond to the caller immediately, but most calls can wait a couple of hours if needed and some can wait a day or two. There really are not all that many real estate emergencies.
I am not trying to be an obstructionist and slow down the speed of communication — I think the electronic devices are a good thing. I am just questioning why the caller, "tweeter" or "text-messager" is almost always treated with more urgency that the people we are with.
There is some value to being there. There is value in giving people attention and looking at them when they talk, actively listening and treating them like they are the only person on the planet who matters. Being there isn’t that difficult to do. Maybe the novelty of all the connectivity will eventually wear off and people will talk to each other again … or maybe not.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.
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