I remember a number of years ago attending a major corporate planning conference with members of the board of my company. I was a pretty young VP, new in the role, and more than a bit nervous about attending this typically intense event. Although I wasn’t a primary figure at this meeting, it scared me to death that I might get called on to say something brilliant. I can only imagine what my body language throughout the meeting must have conveyed to others—“don’t call on me, I won’t know what to say!” Luckily, or so I thought, I got through the meeting without having to participate much.

As I look back, it was an opportunity missed to establish relationships and my credibility early on.

There was an interesting post in Fast Company recently on our body language and the importance of taking stock about whether our image, posture, and non-verbal cues convey a consistent message with how we want to be viewed or seen by others. Do you want to be seen as someone with whom others want to engage and learn from? If so, then put down the smart phone, iPad, or whatever else may be consuming your attention and take stock of what’s right around you!

Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I think our smart phones have become a substitute for engaging in meaningful dialogue with others. I’m amazed as I travel how deeply consumed everyone appears to be in checking their messages, texting and skimming social media sites—seemingly oblivious to the world around them—whether at the airport, in the elevator, at the bus stop, in line for lunch, or wherever it might be. The non-verbal message seems to be don’t bother me, this text is far more important.

Have we lost the ability to just say hello and have a real conversation with a friend, family member, co-worker (or God forbid, even a stranger) in person? I was with a team recently that was meeting in another country. Most of the team members came from different locations across the globe—a really diverse group of cultures, backgrounds and experiences. We were sitting at a table in a restaurant, and guess what everyone did first—yes, they checked their phones. It wasn’t until I asked a question that they started to engage with one another and really open up. I learned a lot about the team that night and really enjoyed the camaraderie over drinks and dinner.

Even if you don’t think you’re a great conversationalist, all it takes is showing some genuine interest in the other person. I’ve found that most people love to talk about themselves so usually all I have to do is ask an initial question—perhaps about their travel plans, occupation, interests or local sporting events.

Our phones help us stay in touch with the office but how much more could we learn and experience just by reaching out to those standing right next to us?