“How is it possible that I struggle to carry a conversation in person when I am so confident talking behind a screen?”
This is a common issue that many in our screen-dependent world face, and one that the pandemic has made worse. With so much interaction now conducted through a screen, the way we exercise our presence has changed. Now, more than ever, we have a more virtual presence than real-life one. It is no surprise that all this online communication has changed our social presence when it comes to dealing with face-to-face conversations. Some of us are different people altogether when we are online.
Why is that?
Feeling more in control when it’s virtual
When having a conversation in front of a 6.5” screen, we don’t have to deal with facial expression changes or body language at the other end of the gadget. When having conversations online, we also feel that we have the time and space to respond on our own terms, compared with in-person conversations where we might struggle to fill in gaps of awkward silence or find it hard to express ourselves without making it all about ourselves.
This brings us to the next point.
Lack of Real-life Communication Skills
I remember a time when some of us would ask our children to go to the waiter to ask for a fork, or an extra napkin, in order to teach children manners and to use phrases such as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
Now we often interact with the world through social media and apps. We rarely make eye contact with other human beings, rarely talk about the nitty-gritty things and rarely share the small little things that give us a window into each other’s lives.
Over time, we gradually lose touch with real-life communication skills such as active listening, empathy, and reading body language.
A Fear of Vulnerability
A client shared, “I feel safe behind a screen. I wouldn’t feel safe sharing things about myself otherwise. I’d feel anxious if I were to have the same conversation in person.”
There was a fear of vulnerability of how others would perceive us in real life if they knew what we were like in person.
Text-based conversations can offer insights about the other person but only to a certain extent. Often, the persona behind those texts is different in real life. The initial attraction or connection established through texts may not play out when meeting in person. Being conscious of this makes meeting someone in real life harder than it actually is. Questions like, “Did I look like a weirdo when I say that?”, or “What if this person thinks I am too desperate for a friend/a job?” would pop into our minds and start making us feel really uncomfortable having conversations in real life.
What It Means When We are Not Confident in Real-Life
When we are not confident it usually suggests that we have a poor sense of self that is based mostly on how we think others perceive us. A question I sometimes ask my clients is this: "Would you marry and spend a whole lifetime with yourself?” There is no right or wrong answer to the question but, if the answer is no, then it is time to introspect and reflect because we do have a relationship with ourselves and this is a relationship that lasts a lifetime. If you don’t like yourself then, what are you going to do about it?