In a 1999 HBR article Edward Hallowell describes what he calls a human moment “an authentic psychological encounter that can happen only when two people share the same physical space”.
He was sensing that an encounter that had been normal and readily available was disappearing from modern life. By calling it human moment he was trying to highlight its relevance.
Talking with a coachee not too long ago, he was teaching me how phone calls just as well as video conferences were challenging for him. In both, he felt like not doing enough or not doing the right thing.
What he was noticing is a fundamental difference between being in the same physical space with the other or being at distance. For him being in the same physical space as the other was enabling him to be present with his intellectual and emotional attention.
Human moments need two ingredients: emotional and intellectual attention as well as physical presence in the same space.
When they happen, they require energy. They are intense, lead to an exchange in energy, and create a force field.
In asynchronous exchanges or at distance communication the other person’s energy isn’t felt in the same way and thus can’t be responded to as well. It leads to the sense of doing less or being less involved my coachee was describing.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t benefit from the convenience of modern technology. It’s to say that we need to know what we are using it for.
What I’m also saying is that nothing replaces the human moment in its ability to build relationships and establish trust.
This means that it is a basic need we have as humans and need to tend to. Maybe not with everyone, but for sure with enough people to at least care for ourselves.