“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” – Simone Weil

Many of us cannot imagine life without our iPhones. Yet the latest mobile technology can be more of hindrance than a help when it comes to cultivating personal and professional relationships. Fortunately, three simple yet powerful features can transform your life.

The Phone

Believe it or not, the smartest thing on a smartphone may be the phone itself.

Does anyone remember waiting until 11 PM to call their parents from college? These days, you don’t have to wait until non-peak hours to get the best rate. Most mobile calling plans allow an unlimited number of voice calls at no extra charge. Nonetheless, emails, texts and social media posts have taken the place of many person-to-person conversations. Sadly, a lot has been lost in the process.

Take the typical business conversation, for example. People reveal information during phone calls that don’t come up in electronic communications. By paying as much attention to the tone of what is being said as the words themselves, you gain valuable insight into what someone is really thinking.

In our company, whenever we receive a referral (which usually arrives via email), we pick up the telephone and call the referrer. We want him or her to hear the gratitude in our voices when we say “thank you,” an emotion that no other technology captures as robustly. People are also more likely to share in conversation why they recommended us and provide insight into the referred individual and company. Many people simply find it too complicated or time consuming to express these thoughts in writing. Yet the more information we have the better our chance of success at turning a prospect into a client.

More important, people appreciate receiving calls. A client recently said, “How to nice to hear from you! I’ve been emailing and texting all morning but you’re the first person I’ve actually spoken with.”

The Calendar

Anthony Sandberg is the founder and president of OCSC Sailing in Berkeley, California, North America’s premier sailing school and sailing club. Anthony uses the calendar feature on his smartphone to schedule 90-minute one-one-one “walking meetings” with his staff. In the past year, he has walked with 51 of his 82 employees in the park adjacent to his office (walks with the remaining 31 are planned).

Anthony also schedules walks with business acquaintances and personal friends. Aside from the benefit of regular exercise, Anthony has found that people are more likely to share their hopes, dreams and thoughts when they’re outside and far away from digital distractions.

“There is real magic to a 90-minute walk since it takes most people that much time to loosen up and get into the flow of a conversation,” says Anthony. “The insights I’ve received and the relationships I’ve nourished have fueled the success of my business over the past year.”

Need more evidence? This article from The New York Times provides a scientific explanation for the success of Anthony’s walks.

The Off Button

I belonged to a group of entrepreneurs that met monthly to share what was happening in our businesses. Even though we all had busy schedules, we made time for these meetings because they provided tremendous opportunities for camaraderie and learning. A prospective entrepreneur was eager to join our group, so we invited him to a few meetings during which he surreptitiously scrolled through his emails by holding his smartphone below the conference table. It was an easy decision to tell him that he wasn’t a fit for our group.

That experience is just one of many. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve seen staring at their smartphones while ignoring work colleagues, significant others and children. The cumulative costs of these distractions, in terms of soured personal relationships and lost business opportunities, are surely staggering. Turning off your smartphone is often the smartest choice you can make .

I will never stop upgrading my iPhone every couple of years since I can’t resist the siren call of what’s new. However, its most valuable features have already been invented and will never go away. It’s up to me to use those features consistently to cultivate the personal and professional relationships that make life good.

More Food for Thought

This Thai commercial speaks directly to the power of personal connections…and why we should make time to disconnect from the digital world in order to connect to what’s really important.