Resolve to communicate better in 2011

Editor’s note: The technology that should be making communication easier too often places an invisible barrier between people. The following guest article offers simple and effective techniques for making quick connections.

It’s a pretty typical occurrence. A friend or client calls, and you let it go to voice mail. Perhaps you e-mail back and forth when a face-to-face meeting (or even a phone call) would be far more effective. Or maybe, you pretend someone is calling your cell to avoid that pesky neighbor in the supermarket.

These seemingly harmless behaviors—ignoring messages; communicating with others only via text, e-mail or IM; and so on—may make life easier, but a dependence on technology may signal a larger problem.

“Technology inhibits the learning and development of social skills. Social skills can atrophy just like muscles you don’t use, making it that much harder to overcome anxiety issues related to interacting with others,” says Jonathan Berent, psychotherapist and author of Work Makes Me Nervous.

Technology is great, but not when it allows you to hide from the things that challenge you, such as in-person conversations or meetings.

This new year, learn to cut your dependence on technology and stop avoiding people. Berent offers these tips to start:

  • Establish a communications routine. For example, establish a policy of returning voice-mail messages by calling back within two hours, even if what you need to say is “I can’t talk now, but let’s set up a time” or “I can get you that information; I’ll e-mail it to you tomorrow.”
  • Rehearse responses. Never feel blindsided when people contact you with unexpected questions. Say: “Thanks for asking. I will have to get back to you. Am I correct in understanding that you want to know [repeat their request]? I will call you back by [time and date].”
  • Practice a quick, friendly hello-and-goodbye that you can use when you bump into acquaintances you’d rather not enter into a long chat with. Smile as you say something like “Great to see you! Wish I had time to talk. Take care!” Important: Keep moving as you talk. Others will take the hint, and you will be sociable without wasting time.
  • Take “I don’t feel like it” out of the equation. Keep your routine in place, period. Notice how much better you feel each time you avoid avoiding!

Do those things for 21 days, the amount of time it takes to develop a new habit. Then celebrate your success with something great.

Berent’s book, Work Makes Me Nervous: Overcome Anxiety and Build the Confidence to Succeed, written with co-author Amy Lemley, not only educates you on how to overcome avoidant behavior but it also provides solutions to the problem from two perspectives: that of sufferer and of healer.

While Lemley has suffered from social and workplace anxiety as well as avoidance, Berent has worked as a psychotherapist specializing in workplace anxiety for more than 30 years, treating powerful CEOs and celebrities. Their combined perspectives in Work Makes Me Nervouspresent the full spectrum of affliction and recovery.

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