Why taking time out helps us to communicate better

by Lianne Walker


What did you just say?

How we communicate things has a big impact on the way our message is received; sometimes we need to recognise that if we take time out to reflect and recharge it will help us to be sure that we are giving the right message in the right way.

Language is a beautiful and complex thing that has evolved and continues to evolve over time. We use it in many different forms and the way we use it affects our daily lives immeasurably whether that be in speech, writing, drawing, signing or digitally.

Each form of language has its own unique style and understanding (or interpretation) for the recipient. A word in one language can mean something very different in another, the manner in which we express language can be interpreted entirely differently depending upon how it is delivered, to whom and when.

For example, if I were sitting across from you just now and I asked “what was that you said?” –the response I received from you would depend on the tone of my question, whether you heard me correctly, whether you were listening fully, whether you were looking at me at the time and also how you interpreted the question based upon what had been said already or what the context was. Lots to consider for a simple five-word question.

If that same question was written down in an email or text let’s say, without having the external influences such as tone, expression and vision, it may come across as aggressive or argumentative or it may just be seen as just a question to repeat something.

The response you give will be impacted by a number of factors, for example, your relationship with the questioner, what has gone before, what external influences there are on you at that time and how you are feeling.

The question is perceived by the senses in the same way in the direct conversation as it is in the digital conversation. The main difference between the two is the personal element.

Whilst a digital conversation is a conversation between two people (or sometimes more) as a face to face conversation, the human interaction is not there in entirely the same way, that is, you can’t see or hear a facial expression or tone of voice and you can’t react to body language. The face to face conversation is not set in stone, it is not time stamped (unless you recorded it of course), it is put in our memory banks and either “forgotten” or set aside until needed again later.

Our Magnificent Brains Need a Rest

Our magnificent brains were designed to think about and do one thing at a time. We were hunter gatherers, we used our brains in much more straightforward ways and made decisions that affected how we ate, kept safe and warm, interacted with each other and developed new skills. We had focus and used what we now know to be our attentional filter.

When we take in information, our brain will determine what that information is, where it has come from and how we use it. Our attentional filter that captures this information has over time become skewed. For example, if you are focusing on something, another conversation or reading let’s say, and you hear your name being called across a room, your attentional filter will raise some elements to your consciousness and ignore others. Unsurprisingly, your name will be registered, thus grabbing your attention and the outside elements such as other voices will be ignored. This attentional filter was discovered by British scientists Neville Moray, Donald Broadbent and Anne Treisman in the 1960s.

“This attentional system is one of the crowning achievements of the human brain, and the focus it enables allowed us to harness fire, build the pyramids, discover penicillin and decode the entire human genome.” reports Dr Daniel Levitin.

Today we ask our brain to think about and make decisions about a number of things at once. For example, we respond to text whilst speaking with someone, we make decisions about what to do or where to go at the same time, we have conversations on the phone whilst driving and listening to the children in the back of the car; the list goes on.

This form of multi-tasking is not only detrimental to our capacity to complete the tasks well but it also has a significant neurological impact. When we ask too much of our brain, it gets to a point where it puts on the brakes, it has to regroup.  Have you noticed that at times you zone out, your brain goes into daydream mode?  This is the brain’s way of resetting, of taking a time out and allowing itself to get prepared to cope with the next onslaught.

How much data is generated every minute?

DOMO each year since 2010 has produced a report on how much data is generated every minute. The infographic below is the latest version of those results and makes for fascinating reading.


Find Time to Daydream

Dr Daniel Levitin , a Neuroscientist at McGill University (and the author of the Organized Mind) and Vinod Menon, a Professor of Neuroscience at Stanford discovered that this switch to the daydream state is in the part of the brain known as the Insula, an important structure about an inch or so beneath the surface of the top of your skull. “Switching between two external objects involves the temporal-parietal junction. If the relationship between the central executive system and the mind-wandering system is like a seesaw, then the insula — the attentional switch — is like an adult holding one side down so that the other stays up in the air. The efficacy of this switch varies from person to person, in some functioning smoothly, in others rather rusty. But switch it does, and if it is called upon to switch too often, we feel tired and a bit dizzy, as though we were seesawing too rapidly.” says Dr Levitin.

This explains why when you take a 10-minute cat nap during the day or find time to meditate for 10 minutes you feel refreshed and ready to start again. It is during this period when you are at your most creative and when you are best able to solve problems. In several studies, a nap of even 10 minutes improved cognitive function and vigour and decreased sleepiness and fatigue.

So if you want to be more creative, then be sure to take some time out each day. It doesn’t have to be much but be sure to partition your day so that you have time away from digital and other distractions. Several studies show that a walk in the fresh air or listening to music can trigger the daydream mode and allow our minds to wander for a while. This acts as a natural reset button for our brain’s pathways and provides a much needed fresh perspective on what you’re doing.

Here’s to all that!

Until next time. Have a great day!

Do you take a few minutes each day to switch off, to regroup? If so, tell us all about it below.


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