We have all experienced moments when we are trying to connect with someone—whether in a one-on-one conversation with a friend, our child, a colleague or in a meeting or presentation—and the person disconnects from us and connects with their smartphone. I would also imagine that if you are like me, you have been guilty of turning to your phone too. It’s hard not to—especially in a world where the pressure to respond with information on-demand has never been greater. It’s that need for immediate satisfaction that continues to pull on us.

While I certainly believe in the strength and the power of technology—there is no denying that it is revolutionizing health care and enabling us to deliver world-class outcomes—I think that without moderation, it is negatively and dramatically impacting how we interact and engage with each other and the world.

Research seems to support this claim. In fact, a recent study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that even having the phone on the table can have a negative impact on face-to-face conversations.  Additionally, researchers have begun to link weakened social skills, including the inability to read emotions or initiate casual conversations, to smartphone use.

The encroachment of technology also detracts from our ability to check out, detach, and take time for ourselves—all critical elements to our health, well-being, happiness, and productivity. By picking up the phone, you are hampering your ability to recharge. And to be completely honest, I am no exception to this. Disconnecting from my devices is something I am consciously trying to be better at. There are times when I do it well and others that I still struggle.

What then are we to do? As a leader, one of our most critical skills is the ability to be present—to listen, to focus, and empathize with our team members. With technology in the room, that can be harder to achieve. We have to make a much more continuous effort to be present, put down the smartphone, and relate to one another.

Here are a few suggestions on how to step away from the device and to make connections:

  • Walk down the hall or pick up the phone instead of sending a text or firing off an email. Take the opportunity to talk with a team member, colleague or business associate. Through an actual conversation, you will likely gain a deeper understanding, find additional opportunities for collaboration and shared purpose and deepen a relationship.
  • Check the phone at the door and enter a meeting device free. Set a good example by leaving your phone in a drawer, your bag or out of sight and ask others to do the same. I bet it will improve both focus and productivity.
  • Draw a line in the sand and take scheduled time off your device. Let folks know that for specified periods, you will not be reachable via text or email and shut it down. If you need some help, there are phone features and apps that can manage your phone downtime.

Your relationship with technology will not change overnight, nor does it need to. Like everything, it is about finding a balance—a balance between harnessing technology and engaging with others in a personal and meaningful way. Technology has the power to facilitate great things. It’s just important to remember that sometimes you need to step away.

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