When it comes to effective communication, table time reigns king.
Gathering around food, sharing stories and laughter, and understanding each other better through tone and body language makes it an unmatched venue for building strong relationships. But it’s something a lot of us have gotten away from.
In The ONE Thing, we talk a lot about how we should focus on doing things right. When we do something that makes everything else either easier or unnecessary, we save time and we gain ground. The principle applies to every area of our life, and that includes our relationships.
Communication lies at the center of every relationship. If we can’t talk to one another, there’s no opportunity for a connection to form. So why, in a time when we’re more connected than ever, do we often feel disconnected from one another?
There’s an argument to be had that while all the different modes of communication have made it easier for us to connect with one another, the quality and effectiveness of our communication has degraded. In a sense, we’ve replaced the Berlin Wall with a smartphone screen. And while it would be easy to blame “technologists” for the problem, in reality, we’re the ones to blame.
No one forces us to text, chat, post, email, or snap a message to anyone else. We do it willingly. And because we do it willingly, we have to be accountable to the impact it has on our most important relationships. And without a doubt, the best way to reform and strengthen the bonds of our most important relationships is to get in front of them by gathering around a table.
There’s a time and a place for everything.
When we’re looking to intentionally build relationships in our life, it’s important to match our method of communication with the purpose of our message. The reason for this is because the channel we use to say something can actually influence the outcome we want to achieve.
As researcher Vanessa Bohns explains in a recent study:
We have found that people tend to overestimate the power of their persuasiveness via text-based communication, and underestimate the power of their persuasiveness via face-to-face communication.
In the study, she and a colleague asked 450 strangers, both by email and face-to-face, to complete a brief survey. They found that people were much more likely to agree to the request when they were asked in person. In a literal and figurative sense, wedging a screen between two people might actually shield them from having to interact with one another.
Surprisingly, most of us don’t seem to even recognize that problem.
The same researchers asked the participants to predict how many people would fill out the surveys when they asked. The participants guessed that half the people would agree to a face-to-face request, but slightly more would agree to an emailed request. In reality however, face-to-face communication did 34 times better than email.
There are times to depend on email, text or other digital communications when keeping up with our relationships. However, spending time in person with the people who matter the most ensures that we’re developing strong, effective relationships.
In a study of almost 100,000 adolescents, sitting down to eat a family meal was found to instill good moods and a positive view of the future. Those kids that sat down with their families to eat dinner together 5-7 times a week also had considerably higher self-esteem and more sense of purpose than those kids that sat down to eat with their families just once a week.
Another study we found focused on other elements of well-being in kids that took part in the family dinner ritual. It found that “young people who frequently shared meals with their families reported better family connectedness, more parental monitoring, and better communication with their parents.”
We’d like to make a bet that these same benefits extend to everyone we share a meal with – not just our family and loved ones. When looking over the different relationships you’re trying to build in your life, hold yourself accountable to actually spending face-to-face time at the table.
Reserve Table Time for Your Professional Relationships
The value of building strong, professional relationships in your life is unquestionable. Whether we’re looking for a new career, improving on an existing one, or jumpstarting a new business, our professional lives begin and end with relationships. Listed below are three of the many ways you can bring those people to the table and start experiencing the benefits of face-to-face communication.
1. Take a Lunch break with Peers
We’re all busy. But sometimes, the benefits of stopping what we’re doing, pushing back from our desk and spending time with our colleagues are undeniable. For starters, spending a lunch break with our peers can build familiarity that helps us perform better as a team.
When we spend time together over a meal, we’re not only developing those relationships, but also building trust and cohesiveness. In fact, researchers who visited a firehouse in one recent study determined that eating and drinking together provides the key glue that enables firefighters to successfully function as a team. When compared with teams that didn’t spend mealtime together, the teams who performed better were the ones that ate with their colleagues.
As the authors describe, “Eating together is a more intimate act than looking over an Excel spreadsheet together. That intimacy spills back over into work.”
Granted, not everyone’s career involves a struggle between life and death. However, it’s hard to argue that any workplace wouldn’t run more smoothly with stronger friendships, trust, and support.
2. Have a Networking Meal
Relationships lie at the center of every business and professional career. But keeping up with those relationships and adding new ones into the mix through networking can be taxing.
That’s where the networking meal comes in.
These face-to-face meetings turn strangers into acquaintances in a low-stress environment that accomplishes a lot in a short amount of time. Like we talked about, face-to-face meetings ensure that you have someone else’s full attention—and they have yours. And that goes a long way.
Henry Ford understood this and liked to bring his potential hires to the breakfast table. He would spend the time talking with them and analyzing their interactions with others as well as their habits. In fact, if someone were to salt their eggs before tasting them, he would take it as a sign that they were quick to make judgments — a quality he didn’t admire in his employees.
The benefits of networking over a meal work both ways. When you meet with someone over a meal, you are both satisfying a purpose. BNI Chief Visionary Officer, Ivan Misner, describes it like this:
When networking at a meal meeting, your networking purpose might be to further develop the relationship, to help a colleague solve a problem, to learn how to refer someone in your network, to introduce your colleague to someone significant, or to teach someone how to talk about your business to his own network members.
For those of us who are not entirely extroverts, a key advantage of a networking meal is that there is a finite period of time for it. In other words, you don’t have to worry about being “on” for an unlimited period of time because the conversation ends when the meal is over. But more than that, a meal can be a nice icebreaker. Food is an important part of everyone’s life and sharing some of our likes and dislikes is an easy way to start understanding each other.
3. Schedule a Team Bonding Meal
When it comes to building relationships, there is something to be said for leaving the office with your peers and eating a meal together at a restaurant. After all, people’s personal and professional personas may be different depending on the environment that they are in. And it’s in these more personal venues that we can see our team for who they are when they step outside of the office.
Forbes agrees, explaining that when it comes to spending time with your team outside the office, “Socializing and getting to know them as people will help you to communicate better, trust each other more and work better together.”
Take these pointers to make sure your own team meal goes well:
Tell stories. We all have stories, and sharing them allows people to get a glimpse into our world beyond the office. When we swap anecdotes, we let others in on moments that have made an impact on us. There are all different reasons to tell a story around the table. Whether it’s to infuse a conversation with deeper meaning, back up a conversation with first-hand experience, or to share one of life’s funny moments, sharing a story with your team can create an unexpected bond.
Share your viewpoint. As long as you aren’t ready to die on your sword for any opinion you share, letting others know how you feel about the topic being discussed lets them get to know you better. That is, as long as you’re willing to be open to different perspectives. We don’t suggest talking about hot and dividing topics like politics, but your take on the best vacation spots in the country is something that would enrich everyone at the table.
Don’t hog the spotlight. Work teams are generally made up of all different types of people. If you’re someone who loves to be front and center, remember to share the space with other members of your team. This is an outing to get to know everyone on the team better. When you invite other people into the conversation circle, you’ll get to know more about everyone involved.
Reserve Table Time for Your Personal Relationships
Research shows that the average dinner table is host to a variety of important activities. On average, each family partakes in over 2,400 family meals held there. The average dinner table will play host to 594 homework assignments, and 312 people report falling asleep on it at least once (including my grandfather).
If your household is missing out on valuable table time, consider these arguments for why you should make a point to change that:
1. It Catches Everyone Up
Curiosity is a quality that just about everyone looks for in someone else. The more learning-based a person is, the more likely they are to adapt to the pressure of any given situation. But when it comes to some of the people we think we know the best, we tend to be closed minded. We think we know everything there is to know. But that’s not true. People have new experiences every day that shape and mold them into a new person.
Table time catches us up on who the people in our life are becoming, just as much as it reminds us of who they are.
You can use this time to talk about both the good and the bad – everything that’s happened during the day while you were apart.
In our household, my young son suggested we all take turns answering a question he learned in school: “How did you feel today and why?” When it’s our turn, we share something that made us happy, proud, sad or any other emotion on the spectrum. As a parent, I love that we can use this time to talk about something I might have otherwise not known was on my child’s mind. And as a contributor to the conversation, it’s nice to share a moment with people who care.
2. It Keeps Us Healthy
Sitting down at the table doesn’t just help your family connect at a deeper level. The children in our lives experience a trickle-down effect from these meals that positively affect other areas of their lives. For starters, it’s good for their diet. Studies show that kids who sit down to eat with their families in the evening are less likely to be overweight.
This isn’t hard to imagine. After all, when you eat with your family, they’re more likely to make sure you eat more of your peas and carrots and pass on that extra helping of dessert.
3. It Keeps Us Smart
It’s also good for their education. That’s right, the children who consistently ate meals with their families were twice as likely to get A’s and less likely to skip school. And not only that, conversations at family dinners expose kids to ideas and topics that will help them excel in school.
Think about it. Kids who spend mealtimes with their families tend to have exposure to a wider variety of vocabulary. Research finds that this exposure helps them to become more literate, understand more, and even read earlier. From your lips to the teacher’s ears!
We need to spend table time with the people who matter most to us because it gives us a brief window into understanding each other better. Table time is all about focus. It’s digital-free and void of interruptions. It’s an opportunity to read each other’s faces and reactions to important news or information. And above all else, it gives us an opportunity to really connect and catch up on the most important aspects of our lives.
Making table time a regular occurrence in your home takes some time. It’s a habit. Excelling at it requires both commitment and a plan of action. Start with communication. Let your family know that table time is becoming a priority, and you plan to enlist their help to make sure it happens. Then, time block for it. That’s right. This is an important appointment you must keep. If it’s on your calendar, you’ll be far less likely to book another appointment during the same window of time.
It’s important to be realistic about increasing your table time goals. After all, it isn’t easy to go from dinners apart to seven square meals a week together. Start with three or four meals together. Then, make it a goal to work your way up to five to seven meals a week. Lastly, emphasize the quality spent together over the time spent together. If you have a great 15 minute conversation around the table, this is far preferable to an hour spent in silence. Recognize these small yet important details and you are well on your way to succeeding at a high level with face-to-face time around the table. And if conversation feels difficult at first, try using some fun conversation starters like these and see where the meal takes you!
No matter the people present or the location you pick, table time is essential for building relationships. If you feel like you could use some help with the relationships in your life, downloading our Relationships Guide is a great place to start. What relationship have you grown by this face-to-face time? Let us know on our Facebook page!