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Get Your Face Out of the Phone: 10 Tips for Better Relationships During Holiday Gatherings

By Dr. Geri Markel On 

Put down the phone and be with people

Technology & disruption of relationships

Is Technology Disrupting Your Life?

Have you drifted into the nasty habit of paying more attention to your phone or other device than to the people around you during holiday festivities? Are those texts, e-mails, and social media posts really more deserving of respect than your colleagues, friends, or family?

According to one estimate, Americans check their phones 46 times a day. How about you? Are you checking your phone that often? Have you slid into a habit of peeking at your phone during social gatherings? If so, consider setting the stage for a holiday that fosters face-to-face interactions with little or no technologic distractions. Your undivided attention to others may be the best gift of all.

Texts, E-mails, Social Media Posts – Technology Affects Relationships and Interaction!

Perhaps you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal if we have our digital gadgets?” According to researchers like Sherry Turkle, author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2015), digital devices preclude real conversation. She suggests that we need the time and space to have conversations that are “… open-ended and spontaneous, conversations in which we play with ideas, and allow ourselves to be fully present.” Think about it: could you lead the way to more engaging conversations and less technology at holiday gatherings?

Here are some suggestions to help everyone hang up the phone and create more pleasant and inclusive interactions during holiday festivities:

  1. Set expectations. Alert friends and family that there will be a no-fly zone for the evening or during the meal. This means no Google fact-checking during discussions. (You can designate a notebook or put up a poster to list questions you want to check at a later time.) Advise guests to let others know that messages won’t be read or returned during family/holiday time.
  2. Put the phones and digital devices away. Ask guests to place their phones in a designated area like a box or shelf. Remember, “Out of sight, out of mind.”
  3. If guests hold on to their phones, propose rules. For example, ask guests to put their phones on silent, shut off the vibrate command, and keep phones out of sight.
  4. Provide lighthearted or humorous reminders. Post signs, pictures, cartoons, or quotes to support the no-fly-zone effort.
  5. Ask guests to bring in a photo, story, or souvenir to trigger conversations.
  6. Have a few neutral topics that will involve all the guests in conversation, including youngsters.
  7. Consider ways to foster fun interactions. Focus especially on inter generational activities like playing cards or board games, or dancing.
  8. Arrange a gift exchange. Ask guests to bring an inexpensive gift, a joke, a poem, a favorite old book, or a white-elephant gift.
  9. Use technology in a limited way for a limited period. For example, schedule a time to use Skype or Face Time to include an out-of-town relative in the festivities.
  10. Select a time and person to take photos. Before posting to social media, get permission from everyone included in a photo.

At social gatherings, the goal is to have interesting and relevant face-to-face interactions and dialogue—to reconnect, discuss, share, inspire, and amuse—in short, to build relationships. You can contribute to pleasant and fulfilling holiday gatherings by curtailing your own smart-phone use and getting others on board to do the same. With a little leadership and creativity, your holiday get-togethers can be a time when people truly come together.


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