Snap Out of It!: How Being In-Trance Can Distort Our Social Skills

Because I’m an advocate of full transparency, I must make a confession: I felt a bit like Captain Obvious this month, using the DRIVEN blog to detail the importance of our culturally-embedded social skills….you know, those interactions of professionalism that stand as a “given” in any arena. And yet, I felt responsible to proceed because what seems superficial on the surface has a neurochemical philosophy behind it. Furthermore, the process of extending these niceties comes with perpetual challenges. Knowing how to shake hands or when to offer a hug to a close colleague come to mind, as does the art of eye contact, or the lack thereof in moments of low confidence or embarrassment.

People are also failing to connect and build trust due to emotional “time travel”. When you’re anxious about the future or fixated on the blunders of your past, you’re ignoring the present. Meditation teacher Tara Brach refers to this state as being “in trance”, which makes sense when you look at people around you. The odds are you’ll see people looking absorbed, with eyebrows furled, a slight frown, deep in thought, perhaps with their heads down, shoulders rounded, eyes squinting at their mobile devices. Picture the person from this morning, looking up from her phone as you stepped onto the elevator, not making eye-contact, or that man who just came off a difficult phone call, shaking your hand at a client meeting, not yet mindful enough to turn his frown upside down.

This epiphany is changing my way of navigating life. Optimistically, my progress in this metamorphosis will inform you, as you walk through this complicated and concentrated world. Let’s set the scene.

A Stark Reflection

I had just gotten off a client call. I was a bit irked and thinking, “Houston, we have a problem!” Thankfully, I discovered this potential volcanic hiccup before a team coaching session, so I had the opportunity to preempt misadventure with a strategic solution. But despite my proactivity, I was still thinking about the sticky situation as I walked to the subway and hopped onto the train. Still deep in thought, I looked up from my spot, standing near the sliding doors, and was startled to see an angry woman blatantly staring at me. I soon discovered the angry woman was, in fact, me! I was looking at my own reflection in the window of the train door. And man, I did NOT want to mess with that woman. It made me realize how often I’m deep in thought, and that unless I’m intentional when I meet someone, my brain is usually half in the future, and my body is sending off unintentional messages.

A Personal Revelation

This encounter with myself made the puzzle pieces come together. When we’re concerned with the future or regretful of the past, cortisol is released, and the brain becomes fogged. Our anxiety becomes evident when we’re not present and open to connecting with others. Perhaps this explains why, at networking events, where my introverted tendencies rise to the surface, I often fail to remember a person’s name after being introduced to them. It could also explain why I feel I don’t contribute value to these small-talk conversations.

In that moment on the subway, it was revealed that when I don’t enter a conversation fully present, without a genuine smile and a desire to connect with the other person, the connection never truly gets made. I’m merely going through the routine while my mind is elsewhere, usually in the future, chaining me to the hamster wheel of life. Without intending to, I was missing countless opportunities to grow relationships with the people I met. Sure, I was hearing their words, but I wasn’t listening to understand. I wasn’t valuing the notion that before I can stand under another’s reality, I needed to connect with the person.

In my follow-up article, I’ll continue to explore the benefits of active listening and listening with intent, while exploring some additional ways you can connect more deeply.