In my last Leading Thoughts, I talked to you about a wise social practice when you use your digital devices. Now, let me talk to you about some brain science.
We are learning that the brain is not a “closed system” and it is not completely “wired” at an early age. Instead, all of your interactions with the world around you continue to condition your brain throughout your life.
This is good news. It means that we can grow and heal and repair as we go through life. Yet there is also a warning for the wise in this.
When we are with people physically, we read and use a number of signals while interacting. Psychologists tell us that there are seven basic signals nearly all of us use: eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, postures, gestures, timing, and intensity.
As you converse with someone, you are sending and reading all of these signals. This is healthy. This is what it means to be in a relationship, to understand others, and to help them understand you. All of this, by the way, is strengthening the relational centers located in the right hemisphere or “side” of the brain, and this right side is also more connected to or “closer” to our emotions and our bodies.
Yet if we only conduct relationships through digital devices, we never get to read these signals nor do we send them. We don’t develop the communication skills to understand and be understood. Moreover, by conducting relationships primarily through digital devices, we mainly develop the left side of our brains. This left side is verbal and logistical. It is more distant from the body and emotions. It is more removed from the parts of the brain that are engaged when we are fully interacting with people.
Now, I’m not a scientist, so let me put this in overstated, somewhat humorous terms. If we conduct our relationships primarily through devices, we are moving away from being fully engaging, fully emotional, people-reading human beings. We move more towards being robots. Verbal. Logistical. Hyper-rational. And, increasingly, non-relational.
What I want you to know as a leader is that if you are constantly connected to your devices, particularly for interacting with people, then you are moving yourself away from being a “people person,” which is what being a leader is all about. You won’t read people as well. You won’t communicate as well. You won’t be as compassionate. You won’t be able to “reach” people as skillfully as you would have without the conditioning of your devices.
What is the solution? Throw away your devices? No, but you do need to understand what digital device use is doing to you and lean against it. Make sure to be with people physically. Communicate by being present and live. And smart leaders try to be with new and different people so they are constantly growing their right brain, relational skills. This makes them better leaders in every way.
Your devices aren’t evil. They are, though, capable of moving you away from the relational. Push back. Use your devices but keep live, physically present relationships active in your life. This is not only what it means to be human, it is also how we wire our brains to lead well.