The Human behind the Machine: Refocusing on what truly matters


In today’s virtual world, you are never, ever alone. There are five thousand ways for you to get pulled into a conversation, roped into an advertisement, or worse yet, trapped in an unsolicited group begging you to save the last zebra stripped whale. No matter where you turn, someone wants something from you.

WhatsApp (12:02pm) “Gabriella!!! Let’s find time this week to catch up for a drink. When are you free and what happened at the meeting last week. Dying to know!”

Business Email (12:02pm) “Time Sensitive: need your feedback on the PR”

Viber: (12:02pm) “Sweetheart, are you around to skype? I miss you! xx Dad”

Facebook DM (12:02pm) “Gabriella, I’m a friend of Bob who said you do tours. So I’m coming to Porto……”

Personal Email (12:02pm) “Quick Trip to Porto on Sept 24th, you around”

Instagram DM (12:02pm) “Gabriella, Did you see my recent article on education. I think you’d love it”

Slack (12:02) “Need your help to edit this document. Need it by 2pm”

Just writing this completely stresses me out! I want to hide, tuck myself into a corner and eat bonbons until the world slows down to a pace I can actually manage. I have daydreams of walking across the Dom Luis bridge and throwing every electronic device into the river. Every…single…one. I want to be left in a world that allows me to focus on the moment, on the people in front of me, on things that truly matter.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t stop spinning just because we want it to. It’s our responsibility to refocus on what we want, while compassionately communicating our needs to others. 

Ignoring the email won’t make it go away. It will only leave the sender feeling ignored and your company, by consequence, with a poor reputation. Ignoring someone’s WhatsApp doesn’t make you look popular and busy, it makes the person on the other end feel hurt and unloved. And worse yet, ignoring the person directly in front of you in lieu of a virtual conversation, only widens the already fragile connection between you and them.

So how do we handle the myriad of ways our time and attention gets pulled? How do we remain true to ourselves and our dreams despite the 1,001 distractions in our lives?

Here are the Top 3 ways to get off the spinning wheel: 

  1. Say No! Whether it’s for business or scheduling a Friday dinner date, there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying “no.” No, I’m so sorry, we’re not interested in your project right now. No, I can’t make dinner on Friday, but maybe next Wednesday if that works for you. No, I don’t want to save whales, but I’m super passionate about three-toed sloths. No, I’m not feeling this friendship. Your addiction to Facebook is killing me.” You can’t accomplish your dreams if you’re constantly focused on everyone else’s. Take time to stop, breathe, and figure out what you, or your business needs, then communicate it with compassion. Don’t ignore it. Don’t assume it will magically iron itself out. That “no” allows the person on the other end to make better choices for themselves, so don’t hold back for fear of hurting someone’s feelings.
  2. Set Expectations: If someone is waiting on your response, or you’ve committed to support them in some way, set clear expectations. There’s nothing worse then saying, “Yeah, l’ll totally get back to you later on that dude” only to NOT get back to them at all. It’s lovely to want to help someone, and to give everything you can, but be realistic with your priorities. Setting clear expectations allows you, and them to be on the same page.
  3. Be Compassionate: No matter what you’re communicating, place yourself in the shoes of the other person. Feel what they’re feeling. Rather than saying, “No, we don’t like your project. Seriously rethink it.” you could say, “Hey Julia, Thanks so much for contacting us, but as much as we appreciate the time and effort you’ve put in this, we can’t see it working with our clients right now. I might suggest Edith’s Brown’s book on xxx. Might give you the leverage you need. Good luck!” The second will leave Julia with a fab impression of you and your company, while the first will make her hate you, a lot. Can she potentially grow from this? Sure, it’s her choice in how she frames your feedback, but there’s no reason to spread ill will. Empathy will get you considerably farther than half-ass communication ever will.

With this said, allow me to be perfectly clear, I’m no better at this than the next person. I may be passionate about communication, but I will always be a perpetual student. I’m writing because I’ve allowed myself to be a victim to distraction, to virtual pressures and to putting other people’s needs before my own. Practicing good communication takes work, a lot of work, but in the end, it pays off in spades. Fight for what you need while caring for other in the process.



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