Season 2, Ep. 3: Recovering Connection in a Digital World

We live in a world that, at least on the surface, seems more connected than ever. Thanks to email, texting, social networking apps and the phones we carry around with us at all times, it has never been easier to communicate with people and get work done. But despite all the positives, there’s no doubting that social media and our relationship with our devices has left many people feeling distracted, exhausted and increasingly alienated from the people around them. So, how should leaders navigate this issue, enjoying the benefits of social media without falling prey to the traps that come with it?

Join us as psychologist Rachel Kitson helps us see how we can begin to recover true connection in our digital world.

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Daniel Harkavy (00:01)
Ah, the 1980s what a time to be alive. It’s the decade that brought us legwarmers, Pacman, Marty McFly, and more fat free foods than we could ever hope to fit into our kitchens.

Audio (00:13)
Hey, Hey. Hey hands off! The free singles are for daddy. Aw, but mom. He is watching his fat and cholesterol. They make a good sandwich. So eat something else. Look new. Kraft free singles fat free for daddy. New Kraft free singles. Flavor like that without the fat.

Daniel Harkavy (00:42)
By the way, that was the voice of a young Leonardo DiCaprio. Just a fun fact for you. Commercials and products like these craft free singles flooded our airwaves and supermarkets in the eighties the fat free craze was at an all time high with everyone from all the popular media to our government and health professionals singing the praises of the low fat diet and pretty soon the food industry started finding ways to take the fat out of everything. But there was a problem to keep consumers happy. The flavor that fat provided had to be replaced by something else. So sugar and other artificial sweeteners were added to many of the products. And as a result, this fat free movement, which was supposed to be a boon for the health of our nation, it ended up fueling an obesity epidemic that we’re still dealing with today. The moral of the story here is that even a promising idea when it’s abused or pushed too hard or are not really well informed, it can have painful and unintended consequences. And the truth isn’t just limited to this fat free craze that happened in the 80s. It’s a theme we see play out today in many areas of our life, perhaps nowhere more than in both the promise and the consequences of being so connected in this digital world.

Audio (02:03)
I mean, the mission of the company is to make the world more open and connected because we believe that you know, everyone is going to have a much better experience when they’re doing different things with their friends, right? When there’s more information out there or you can discover great content through your friends or you can discover new food that you want to eat or places to run or anything like that. Your world just becomes a lot richer.

Daniel Harkavy (02:25)
That was Mark Zuckerberg in a 2011 interview with the BBC. On the one hand, he’s right to be hopeful about the promise of social networking tools like Facebook because they do offer unique opportunities to connect with a wide range of people, ideas and experiences. And when I say social networking tools, I’m talking about everything from the social media apps on your phone to email, to text messaging and chat-based software like Slack and teams. As a leader, I’m sure you felt the pain of these unintended, maybe it’s a conference room where all of your teammates are heads down looking at their screens or maybe it’s at home, at the dinner table where family members are looking at screens. The stress and the pressure of constantly being connected and constantly being on and comparing where you are versus everywhere else or responding to everybody’s requests. It builds up. And we find ourselves torn between the necessity of these tools in this modern world and the negative impact they can have on how we lead our overall mental health and our relationships. If you’re listening and finding yourself saying, yes, that’s me than take heart because together we’re going to explore how we can bring some balance back to our lives and recover true connection and thinking space in this very fast paced digital world.

Daniel Harkavy (03:59)
Hi, I’m Daniel Harkavy and this is the building champions podcast. Our goal with this podcast is to share some interesting stories that highlight key leadership issues from a unique perspective so that you can learn how to better lead yourself, your team and your organization. This episode is about how you can navigate the leadership landscape defined by near constant virtual connectivity and how recovering true connection can actually make you an even better leader.

Rachel Kitson (04:29)
I think people are expected to be much more responsive and on and then than they ever have been.

Daniel Harkavy (04:37)
That’s Rachel Kitson, a psychologist with Southeast Psych in Charlotte, North Carolina. Rachel has worked with many clients whose lives and relationships have been impacted by the way they use social media in her work with these clients. Rachel has seen a common theme.

Rachel Kitson (04:54)
You know, I work with doctors and lawyers and bankers and CEOs and teachers and it’s, you know, across the board people are, I think struggling with burnout and with this constant kind of bombardment of professional requests or needs or interactions. And I think it takes away from their ability to really be present in their own lives in general. You know, it’s kind of like, well, if Joe Schmo is emailing his clients at nine and 10 o’clock at night and I don’t do that, then I’m going to lose clients and people are going to go to him because you know, they can have access to him all the time. So there becomes this kind of herd mentality or you know, group think that we have to be on all the time. That’s just part of the job. And I think for some people it really makes them feel important and that they’re needed and that their work is really valuable. And you know, I think a lot of people see it as a burden

Daniel Harkavy (05:49)
If we’re honest. This is the reality most of us live with when it comes to the relationship we have with our phones. We feel the heavy burden of constantly being plugged in and we go on living that way because well, that’s what we’re supposed to do. Just like how the low fat hypothesis morphed into an ideology that dominated and shaped the lives of millions of Americans for decades to come. In essence as a culture, we’ve bought into an ideology, an overarching belief that being on and available at all times is non negotiable. And it’s just how life and leadership has done today. But if we’re to rediscover the value of genuine connection and lead healthy lives in the midst of this cultural moment, we have to regain a measured perspective on the role social media plays in our lives.

Rachel Kitson (06:42)
Social media is really just a human tool that we can use to our benefit or detriment as long as we really understand our own motivations and goals and values for taking advantage of it. Rather than just it being this kind of passive or unintentional way that we utilize it.

Daniel Harkavy (06:59)
Rachel brings up a crucial point, just like a low fat diet. Social networking tools are just one piece of the puzzle. They’re simply tools in a leader’s tool belt and whether these tools benefit your leadership or harm, it all depends on how you choose to use them. It’s easy to see just how important these tools can be for your success as a leader when used to connect work groups across multiple time zones or locations or to create positive, meaningful impressions with your clients and wider tribe. These tools live up to the ideals shared by Mark Zuckerberg and other tech pioneers. But while we look to leverage the advantages, these tools can bring their alert potential consequences for both yourself leadership and your team leadership if you don’t exercise some wisdom while using them. As science and psychology begin to unravel the complex consequences of our relationship with social networking tools, it’s becoming clear that it goes beyond bad manners at the dinner table.

These technologies are actually rewiring our brains. In 2014 an article was published in the journal of social psychology and it noted that even the mere presence of a cell phone may be distracting enough to impair both attention and task performance and in another study published in the journal of social and clinical psychology, they found that social media when used to compare yourself to others can be linked to depressive symptoms regardless of whether that comparison leaves you thinking you are worse off or better off than the other person. There are many more studies like these and what researchers are continuing to find is that our use of social media can potentially have a negative impact on our self esteem, our self image and our ability to focus and perform at building champions. One of our core beliefs is that self-leadership proceeds all other types of leadership and if your relationship with these tools is leaving you feeling dissatisfied with your life, distracted from your work and disconnected from the people around you, then you aren’t able to bring your best to the things that matter most in your business and in your life. And it’s not just self-leadership that’s at stake. The way we lead our teams can also be negatively impacted if we’re not careful.

Rachel Kitson (09:28)
I think it’s really important to take breaks from whatever online communication it is that you tend to have. It goes back to being kind of mindful and aware that your physical presence is not enough. That you know, making eye contact and communicating in some way with people that are in the room with you is essential to fostering those relationships and maintaining them. And I think it’s important to be aware that we may all be kind of hypocrites in some way because a lot of us use social media and digital communication all the time. We still pick up on the fact when we’re being ignored.

Daniel Harkavy (10:07)
Something like leaving your phone in your pocket before a meeting and using that time to chat and connect with a team member can seem like a small thing, but it’s little actions like these, this daily practice of being radically present with your colleagues instead of always having one eye on your phone that can help you to build a real sense of connection and trust with those around you. And according to a Harvard business review article back in 2016 creating feelings of connection and belonging through effective communication is one of the most important competencies for a leader to develop. So while you use your devices, email and social networking apps to get work done, remember that the success of the team largely depends on how known and connected each team member feels. Think about your typical day and ask yourself, are you carving out time to connect with people intentionally face to face, eye to eye?

Are you really present? It could be as simple as stopping by your teammates desks to just check in or maybe going on a short afternoon walk with a coworker and leaving your phone back at the office. Much of your success with navigating the healthy use of social networking tools will be determined by how you set boundaries like these for them to work. Your boundaries need to be clear and you need to have a compelling why behind them. If constantly checking your work email is taking you away from valuable family time in the evenings. You need not only to have a plan in place like leaving your phone and laptop in your work bag once you walk through the front door. You also need a clear motivating force a wide that will help you to commit to that plan and execute on it with excellence. In this case, you’ll follow through with it because you know it will allow you to give your best to something much more important than whatever notification or update your phone has to offer.

Every tool has a specific purpose. A hammer is great when you need to hang a picture on the wall, but if you start using it to fix a light bulb or brush your teeth at night, you’re going to run into some significant problems. My goal here isn’t to demonize the social networking tools that have become an integral part of how we communicate home and at work. I simply want us, myself included, to be absolutely crystal clear on how we use these tools and why, because if we as a society continue to buy into this ideology that says we need to be on and connected 24 seven we need to be comparing. We need to be seeing what others are doing. We’ll be left with a bunch of distracted, burned out leaders who are unable to form true connections with people and our teams and our organizations will be the worst for it. Not only that, so will our families. My hope is that you’ll take the time to step back and examine how these tools that you’re using day in and day out are impacting your life and your leadership, and then you’ll make whatever adjustment is needed to ensure that you are a leader who knows how to create genuine connection. You’re a present leader.

Coming up, we’ll dive into some specific tactics that will enable you to recover connection in this digital world.

Todd Mosetter (13:41)
Hi, my name’s Todd Mosetter and I work in the content department here at building champions. I’m excited because in the second half of every episode we get to sit down with an executive coach to talk about how we can apply what we heard. But in this episode, Daniel actually stuck around after recording to, to join us when we were kicking around this topic. Actually this was Daniel’s idea. He’s seen this affect leaders both at work and at home and felt burdened. So we picked it for an episode. Daniel, thanks for taking time to join us. Great to be with you Todd. So when we think about regaining connection in a digital world, it’s an issue that we’re all familiar with. When you’re working with clients, where have you especially seen it affect their leadership?

Daniel Harkavy (14:19)
Where I see it impacting us as leaders most is in presence. So you and I have had conversations around this and you know, I’m an absolute firm believer in the fact that if I’m face to face with you and I start looking at my phone or on a tablet and I don’t tell you what I’m doing, what I can be communicating to you is that your less important and whomever I’m communicating with is taking front seat. You’re taking backseat and they’re just those unintended consequences. And we don’t know what people think or believe about who they are and who we are. And oftentimes that actually is more damaging than it is beneficial. So we need to be very aware of what we’re communicating as leaders when we look at any sort of technology when we’re face to face businesses, relationships and we’re people and we like to be eye to eye and ear to ear. And we want to know that what we’re bringing to the table matters and the other person respects us and appreciates us and values us enough to be with us.

Todd Mosetter (15:22)
I couldn’t agree more. I think we take for granted that ability to really just connect with someone. Right. That’s why this episode is we tend to lose connection. We have this need to have so many things open at one time. Yeah. And the power we lose by focusing on one thing, whether it be a person, a thought, a project, I don’t think it can be overstated.

Daniel Harkavy (15:43)
Yeah. And I yeah, true confessional here. I battle this myself. I use a OneNote for everything. So I bring in my little tablet and I’ll stay in one note because I need to be capturing my notes and my thoughts as I move through the meeting. And everybody knows that’s what I do. But there are temptations from time to time to where all of a sudden something pops up on my screen. And the moment I click on that little alert, which that tells me I got an email, is the moment I’m no longer in the meeting I’ve left. I’m now looking at an email in that email. You know, it might be completely irrelevant. It might not be important at all. And I’m missing the big opportunity. Which is to participate in a meeting that I said yes to, which means it was important, important enough for me to be there the whole time.

Todd Mosetter (16:33)
I think that email is a big one, right? When we talk about losing connection in a digital world, so much of what we do now isn’t done face to face anymore. And some of it’s because our team is spread around the country or the world. We’re in different times zones. We’re in different offices. That pace of business, we need to use digital communications, right? Be it teams or Slack or email so much. But I find that that leaders that don’t find the time to connect face to face, they lose something. Where have you seen that effect? Leaders?

Daniel Harkavy (17:06)
You know, there’s been all sorts of studies and research done and you know, this as well as if not better than do I from a a research and a leadership perspective that we humans need to be connected. And if we no longer are some of our teammates will start to suffer and engagement will start to wane. So you open a door for me to begin talking about one-on-ones. And oftentimes we see that people are mistaking correspondence via email or teams or whatever that channel may be. They may mistake that for real connection and then they’ll say, you know, we don’t need those one on ones. And I will tell you those one on one’s are absolutely critical for the purpose of developing our teammates for the purpose of communication, questioning us, understanding things from their perspective. And like you mentioned for some of us where we have teammates that are spread throughout the country and around the world, this is where technology has really helped us. I love seeing our team or our clients face to face on zoom. So I love technology for that perspective. I love so much of what technology does, but we just need to be using it intentionally to benefit our leadership effectiveness and team development and how we’re organizing and leading our businesses.

Todd Mosetter (18:32)
That’s so good. Connection doesn’t always have to be physical, but it sometimes does need to be face to face, right? You pick up on nonverbal cues in a way with that video that you’re not going to get and not that it’s meant to replace the face to face. They’re both important components, but to your point, sometimes if you’re spread out, video is better than just an email. No doubt about it. Yeah. When you talk about that, always connected, let’s, let’s circle back on that for a second. Right? In this digital world, there’s this whether you said I think quite accurately, whether we set up ourselves or whether we allow others to set it for us, there can be this expectation of always being on, right? It seems like there is no more off time. Right? There used to be business hours and personal hours and it all is kind of one big jumbled pot anymore. Can you talk a little bit about that expectation and how you’ve seen leaders manage it effectively?

Daniel Harkavy (19:23)
We are definitely in a borderless business climate. There are no borders. We can work 24, seven and it’s tempting and for most of us, we’re very busy each and every day and there’s more to do than we can fit into a an eight, 10 or even a 12 hour day. The problem for us as leaders with technology is that oftentimes we choose to do work after a spouse goes to bed or we tie kids in. We choose to answer emails on Saturday or on Sunday. We get a thought at eight at night and we send a note to a teammate or we text a teammate and we have to understand that we leaders set the tone so we can’t sit there and talk about our companies being these places and cultures where we respect the overall wellbeing of our people and then send emails and text messages at 10 at night and on Saturdays. We have to understand there’s a disconnect if we’re sending those notes and not respecting people’s off hours. We’re setting an expectation that you need to be on all the time and it will over the long haul, it will have negative consequences on our leadership effectiveness. And in our culture. Now, I’m not saying you can’t work in the evening. I’m not, you know, there’s some Pollyanna Nirvana where you only work eight hours a day. That’s not it. What I’m saying is use technology wisely.

Todd Mosetter (20:56)
Another big one that I know I’ve heard our clients struggle with that I know you’re passionate about. This 24 seven connectivity has its effect in the workplace, but it also has your effect on thinking time, right? We’re always on, we’re always looking at something. Talk a little bit with me about the power that comes from just turning everything off.

Daniel Harkavy (21:18)
I absolutely believe that what’s at risk leading today. The biggest challenge leading today is that thinking time. And I’ve had numerous conversations with my executive level clients where we just talk about the fact that 10 and 20 years ago we had more space built into our days to think and now being connected 24, seven it is more difficult. So I think that one of the greatest things that we leaders do for our business is to think it’s to reflect, it’s to assess, it’s to innovate. It’s to, to challenge, it’s to read, to study, to grow. And we have to be really disciplined with that. What we call on time. And when you are working on your business or on yourself, not in your business, what you need to do is you need to be turned off, meaning no technology. In order for you to have the most pure beneficial on time, you need to shut down what will distract you and what will cause you to get out of that space to where you’re doing the deep thinking that will enable you to have the next breakthrough or see something with more clarity.

Make a decision that you’ve needed to make. So it’s a, it’s key that we have built in on time into our weeks, which is for many leaders, incredibly challenging. And then we need to have the rules around our, on time to where we’re not turned on with technology.

Todd Mosetter (22:36)
I think building it into your regular discipline is key, but we want to be very practical in this second half. We want to help listeners see, here’s a tangible thing I can do. One area. I know you’ve had success here are Sabbath days.

Daniel Harkavy (22:48)
So Sabbath days, I just got done reviewing my Q4 business plan with my executive assistant, Lynne and I had a regular discipline of Sabbath days where I would leave the night before and then take the next day and go down to the beach. Or I would go to a park somewhere here in the Northwest. And I’ve done that with regularity for the last few decades. There are quarters where I nail it. They’re quarters where I miss it and when I miss it, I feel it. So when we talked about Q4 and we talked about 2020, where like, okay, let’s pick those dates where I can have my Sabbath days because I’m a better leader when I have that 24 hour period of time by myself to just reflect, assess, think, right, plan innovate. And we’ve got many leaders that do that. I think of some of our leaders that have library days and every single month they’re at the library for the entire day to do exactly what we’re talking about.

Todd Mosetter (23:44)
I love that we’re focusing on this idea of self leadership, right? Because we firmly believe at building champions, self-leadership proceeds, team leadership, right? You can’t lead others well if you’re not leading yourself well. So a lot of the things we touched on already are going to help them with their leadership when they’re in the office or at work. But we know that we’re humans, right? So we’re dealing with this connectivity issue, this being connected all the time in our personal lives as well. Where have you seen those two intersect in a way that really can hurt someone’s leadership?

Daniel Harkavy (24:40)
We, as leaders, we bring an energy to work. And when things are going really well at home, when our marriages are solid, when our relationships with our kids are great, when we’re taking care of our health, when we have a rich social life, when we, when we get to play, we have activities or hobbies, whether that be reading or whether that be out surfing on the weekend or shooting hoops or whatever it is you like to do.

When we’re experiencing a multidimensional life and we’re accumulating net worth and focusing in the areas of our life that are truly most important to us, we bring a great energy to work because we know that we are attending to what matters most. Okay? If we allow technology to creep into any areas of our life and start to be disruptors, it will hurt that energy, that presence we bring to work. So I can tell you at building champions, there’s more than 20 of us coaches here and we share stories, not people’s names, but we, we talk about themes and there’s a huge theme where leaders are being taken out because they’re emotionally drained as a result of relational trauma and drama at home. They’re not giving their best to their best. They’re allowing their mobile phones to be present at the dinner table. They’re looking at email when they’re on dates, they can’t have conversations with their kids eye to eye. They’re not setting rules for their home with regards to there are certain times where we don’t allow any phones around because we want to connect as humans. And when that takes place, it just hurts us as leaders because we have an emotional relational exhaustion because we’re not experiencing wins and lift in the air. There are areas of our life, I think there’s a very healthy way for us to impact the world utilizing technology, no doubt about it. So I’m not saying don’t, I’m saying be aware. I’m saying set boundaries, Like anything. It’s a tool and if used properly, it can help us. And if used improperly, you’re going to break a thumb.

Todd Mosetter (26:17)
Before we end, I know that one of the areas that you’re passionate about, and I think most of our leaders know somebody in our lives that are, are the younger generation, and I know that when it comes to technology and being connected and what that does to our younger generation, I know how passionate you are about that. I’d love for you just to talk about that for a quick minute.

Daniel Harkavy (26:44)
Yeah. So I’ll wrap it up with just the FOMO phenomenon and the FOMO phenomenon is all about the fear of missing out. So you take FOMO and then you take the very real difficulty of our teenage years. And there’s a lot of insecurity. There’s a lot of fear, there’s a lot of comparison. And when I was a kid years ago, I didn’t know what everybody else was doing, so I didn’t feel left out because I didn’t see it. It wasn’t in my face all the time. You know, just this weekend, Todd, you know, I had six of my high school friends up for a surfing weekend reunion and we talked about the difference of now raising kids versus when we were kids. There’s a very real difference in what our kids are experiencing in this FOMO, competitive comparison world. So parents be aware, I’m not saying rip phones out of your kids’ hands. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be connected. I’m saying we need to be educating. We need to be setting ground rules and we need to be looking for unhealthy habits because there’s some alarming statistics that are taking place today. In this very connected world where kids are feeling incredibly alone, incredibly disconnected and unfortunately many of them are making some pretty horrific decisions as a result of the pain and the hurt. So we just need to be careful and we need to be leaning in and intentional as we’re guiding the youth around us.

Todd Mosetter (28:13)
I think that’s great wisdom and encouragement. One thing I would add to that, Daniel is, and I think this dovetails with what you talked about earlier, this need to be connected often stops us from having the conversations that matter the most because we’re distracted. We don’t have the time or the energy or the priority to talk about things. This is one of those areas. Talk about it. If you see your kids and they’re engaging with media, talk about it. What are they seeing? What are they feeling? What are they experiencing? Get them to verbalize that because if you just turn your head the other way and allow both of you to be buried in your phones or your computers or whatever, you’re missing an opportunity. Talk about it. The irony of the fact that we’re talking about losing connection to digital world and all of you have had the benefit of listening to us digitally is not lost on us, but we appreciate it. Daniel, thank you for bringing this topic up to us and for taking the time to chat.

Daniel Harkavy (29:08)
Well, thank you Todd. I appreciate being able to discuss this very important topic with you, so thank you.

Todd Mosetter (29:14)
My pleasure. As always building champions.com/podcast you can get transcripts from this episode and any resources we talked about. If there’s ever anything we can do to help you and your leadership or life, make sure you drop us a line and let us know. Thanks so much.

Daniel Harkavy (29:29)
Thanks so much to our guest, Rachel Kitson for sharing her deep understanding on this topic and how social media and being connected impacts our mental health and our relationships. And thank you for taking time to listen and learn with us. I hope you took away something valuable from this episode that will produce fruit in your leadership. As a reminder, you can listen to other episodes and access relevant tools by visiting building champions.com forward slash podcast and we’d love it if you could share the podcast and leave us a rating or review. Doing so helps people to find us and it helps us learn what we’re doing well and how we can continue to grow and provide our listeners with content that will truly transform their lives and their leadership. And a big thanks to Lucian Green who helps us with the research and the writing for the podcasts, and my longtime friend Scott Higby, who does the audio and production, and he has Studio C Creative Sound down in San Diego. Thanks again.