Let’s Be More Social – Make Room for Prosocial Behaviors
Per usual, these posts need to rattle around inside my skull for days/weeks/years before I am able to make the connection between thoughts, feelings, and my motor cortex allowing me to put literal pen to paper.
What consistently turns these thoughts into actions is generally some type of environmental trigger, like the one I am about to share.
Remember That Time at the Cash Register??
Yesterday, I approached a store checkout with an armful of things.
The young person at the register scanned everything, and, seeing that I already had my debit card out, pushed the total to the payment machine.
That was the full extent of her interaction with me.
Not once did they look me in the eyes, preferring to continue talking to their young colleague and act like I wasn’t there.
I wanted to acknowledge her presence by way of a simple “hello, how are you,” yet I was unable to do this due to effectively feeling invisible.
I didn’t feel like a person. I felt like a transaction.
And that brought up a lot.
See How it Feels
If you’re not familiar with the above feeling, try this simple experiment.
Get your partner, friend, or a work colleague to sit or stand in such a way that they can’t look directly at you (maybe with their back to you).
Now attempt to greet them with a simple hello without them responding in any way.
How does it feel to be ignored?
You could try this where they pretend to be engrossed in their phone while you attempt to connect with them.
Now, wanting to connect with people in transactional environments is tricky.
They’re just doing their job. There isn’t time for a long talk. And no one has an obligation to validate you by being nice to you.
And it sure feels good when we at least acknowledge each other as human beings.
It Goes the Other Way More Often
Most times it’s the people behind the counters being treated like objects.
Ignored by people on their phones.
For example, someone at a coffee shop orders and can’t bring themselves to pull their face from their phone for five seconds to acknowledge the person in front of them.
The deep and sad irony is that these people are often so engrossed in interacting with a complete stranger on Instagram or Facebook that they cannot bring themselves to pay attention to the real human standing in front of them.
It is like the real people we come into contact with are second class citizens to those we communicate with online.
Now imagine being on the receiving end of the above scenario (maybe you don’t have to imagine) day after day.
What does it do your feelings of trust and empathy for people? Surely it wears them down over time.
Such a lack of warmth and humanity leads to fear, mistrust, and a general environment of antisocial behavior.
And this is just one of the areas of social dynamics that makes it hard for us to interact with each other every day.
Grow Your Community in Real Life
Frequently, people will tell me that they are online to find their community.
Or I will be asked; “how do you make real world connections?”
In my mind, it starts with these small prosocial interactions, especially when directed toward people we see almost daily.
Take for example, my local coffee shop where I spend A LOT of time.
I’ve been going there for years. Many of the staff have come and gone, but the key players have been there for a long time.
Over time, I have gone from being “tall man who orders espresso” as they take my order, to them asking my name, to me asking their names, to having a quick chat as I place my order, to getting special privileges like getting my coffee faster on a busy day.
While all of these exchanges are relatively light, through looking up, saying hello, being open and polite, taking an interest in them, sharing a bit of myself, and, perhaps most importantly, offering very basic human-to-human acknowledgement and recognition, we’ve formed active social relationships.
We don’t have long talks about our lives but we see each other often and we get to be ourselves.
And that feels good.
It feels like being real people.
Far From Home
Being far away from coffee shop counters seems to make people more social.
My mom just recently completed the top third of the Pacific Coast Trail in a solo hike. The 80 or so days it took her could have been quite lonely had it not been for the fact that everyone on the trail – all strangers – are super friendly and supportive.
From simple “hellos” to sitting in camp at night sharing stories and experiences, the hikers go out of their way to be prosocial.
From my own experience on hiking trails, the vast majority of people look up and say hello as they pass by.
In fact, the further away from home we are the more relatable home seems to become.
If I’ve travelled overseas and someone from North America has heard me speak, I’ll often get asked where I’m from.
“BC, but I live in Salt Lake City, Utah.”
“I’ve been to Utah. I love Cottonwood Canyon!”
And at that point, within a very short number of sentence exchanges, some commonality is found and a warm human exchange has occurred.
I get similar exchanges if I’m out on my motorbike, or out in my Defender.
But something happens to us when we are back in our home towns and cities, and perhaps, most notably, when we are plugged back into our devices and are viewing the world through a 5”x3” screen.
We go cold. We become closed off.
We become less human.
Me living in Utah and loving Cottonwood Canyon is a source of common ground when I’m in Iceland, but when I’m actually in Utah, only a matter of miles from Cottonwood Canyon, it is barely of interest to anyone.
Our social dynamics are distorted and it’s time we give them some attention.
More Social Less Media
Over the coming weeks, check your own prosocial behaviours and look for how others interact with the usual characters of their daily life.
If you are about to interact with any real human being, especially one who is about to provide some type of service for you, at a bare minimum, put your phone in your pocket or bag (if you are on a call, wait until you have finished the call before you engage with the person in front of you), look up, look at the person with a warm expression on your face, and say hello (even the most shy and introverted of you can manage that).
Be ready for the fact that your actions and intentions might not always be reciprocated and that THAT’S OK.
You won’t catch everyone in a place they want to engage you from.
The goal in developing prosocial behaviors to start making it less uncomfortable and scary to talk with the people around us.
Finally, if you see someone who has just had to deal with a person engrossed in their phone (or other devices) to the point of failing to acknowledge the human standing in front of them, see if you can’t go out of your way to restore some positive humanity to their day through being more prosocial. Again, they might not want it and that’s ok, you won’t hurt them by being nice.
My More Social Less Media launches in a few weeks and goes into more depth on how we can all be more prosocial.
Sign up here to be the first to get emailed when the program launches.
Thanks so much for this. Very thoughtful and timely.
Love this. I have been very aware of this recently, and while I, too, am guilty of over-engaging in my phone, at times, I am working on putting my phone (mini-computer?) away more. Thanks for the insight, and reminder.
Thank you for this! For decades I’ve found myself the customer who feels ignored by the cashier, most often a young person. It goes right to my own insecurities, I know, but it is a terrible feeling and sometimes carries itself into my day long after the encounter. I think your movement is fabulous and I can’t wait to see what’s to come.
jenn in GA
oh, Dallas. i used to be the self-absorbed customer. i ignored employees in stores when they greeted me and didn’t make eye contact or conversation with them if it didn’t relate to the transaction.
then i became a barista.
after months of following the company mantra to “connect,” one customer shared something deeply personal when i asked “how are you?” then another did something similar. it changed me forever. i realized the life-altering power of demonstrating genuine, consistent interest in another person, whether the context was transactional in nature or not.
i think many hide behind their phones because social interactions with strangers make them uncomfortable. they have no idea the potential that exists for connection and being known, for strangers to become friends. i could tell you so many stories of people being impacted by prosocial behavior in the midst of a transactional environment. every single one moved me deeply, for i had no idea the impact of small gestures until the circumstances became known. “Cheers” does exist in real life.
thanks for encouraging everyone to be prosocial.
Great article and concept. I have a 17 yo daughter who is engrossed in her phone as many waking hours as she can be. I am working to get her to look up at people when they are talking to her and make eye contact. It is slowly working, but she is the epitome of who this article is aimed at. In this day and age, this article is so simple yet so profound in its idea. Great job!
Perfectly stated! I work remotely for a large global corporation, and I communicate electronically with people for ten hours a day (minimum). When I finally leave my desk/house I just want to have a “warm human exchange”, but find it increasingly more difficult to do so. Whether a cashier who is just doing their job, or a neighbor at the dog park, it seems we are getting further and further away from the most basic human communications – eye contact, a smile, a simple hello. Also, you are spot on with the travel! I hope you dig into that part more with More Social Less Media. REALLY looking forward to the launch!
Thanks for this. As a customer, I am often in physical pain and trying to make a timely bus connection. I am regularly greeted by the question, “Hi, How are you?” which feels like I have to perform and say ” fine” as the question seems rote and insincere and is, in this particular store, part of “customer service”. I am reminded now that I can respond genuinely with a few words. The connection with others is the priority, despite any feelings that arise, often from early childhood experiences, that I have yet to process.
“It’s about giving each other the chance to treat each other like humans in an antisocial world.”
Thanks for the reminder to be prosocial. All we need to do is provide the opportunity and then let it happen on it’s own.
…although I’ll be there are some coffee houses where I’m “that tall guy who always says things to us.” 😉
This is a great idea you’ve had! Our world is so headed down the wrong path socially. Your effort and others like it should bring the problem into sharper focus for many of us. At my favorite coffee house there is a lovely woman who stands out significantly due to her warmth and conscientious attention to every order she fills. She never fails to look me in the eye and ask whether I’ve done something fun that day or how my day has gone. And then she listens and responds. We’ve exchanged a few personal matters about our lives without being burdensome and it truly makes a difference to my day, at least, and I’m sure, cumulatively, to hers. Eye contact and a smile alone go a long way to make an otherwise mundane encounter meaningful. Thank you and I look forward to further posts.
I’m always the person who chats with everyone I come in contact with. Most always, they reciprocate with some sort of talking. My husband always says that if given a few minutes with a stranger, I would know almost everything about them! I found that the ones who do chat back with me are great people and we have a lot in common…all of us. There are so many good people in this world if we just stop to acknowledge them. Today, at our local Starbucks store, I offered to help a woman with her hands full of coffee orders out to her car. My daughter seemed annoyed AGAIN that I talked with/helped a stranger, but it felt right. Upon going out to her car, I asked what the coffee was for and she told me an open house up the road. It dawned on me that it was my former neighbor, since widowed and moved away. We had a wonderful time catching up on our lives! What a loss if I had ignored my impulse to chat/help her! One more thing…I make a point of thanking each and every veteran I come across daily. You can usually spot them by their hats that they wear so proudly. So many look surprised, some cry and some look shocked, but I will continue to do this always!
Thank you for having the courage to give voice to this idea! The media explosion has created swift and deeply significant changes in the very nature of human interaction. Your solution is simple and genius! Susinct and powerful. More social, less media. Prosocial! Perfect!