Today’s article is about communication. It is amazing to me that in today’s high tech environment we still cannot find a way to communicate better with our teams and customers. Just about every day I hear the statement “well I didn’t know about that”. With the abilities to call, email, text, tweet, blog, etc… how is it still possible that so much communication gets lost? Have you ever wondered how offices ever got anything communicated before this Technological Age? Easy, they actually spoke to one another! I know this is a strange concept, but believe it or not, when somebody had something to say, they got up out of their chair, walked down the hall and said, “Hey Joe….” When you are face to face a funny thing happens, you also talk about things outside of the subject you came in to talk about. Maybe it is personal, or maybe it is just, “did you hear about….?” Either way, it causes people to communicate.
I can’t count how many times I have asked one of my team members over recent years, “Did you talk to them?” The response is usually, “I sent them an email but they haven’t responded.” Why is it so hard in today’s world to pick up the phone or walk down the hall? When I have asked this question to clients and team members alike I usually get a response that is similar to, “in an email you have time to choose your words and think about how you want to answer the question.” It’s funny, in the times before technology you had to be quick on your feet. A defined skill set that demonstrated how you were able to handle the pressure and being put on the spot. It is my opinion that all this new technology is destroying those skills that once set apart the average individuals from the superstars. While email has its place, there will never be a replacement for personal contact.
One problem that seems to happen a lot when emailing is that what you put into writing is taken the wrong way. It is easy to mistake a statement as condescending or sarcastic, when in reality it was never meant that way. When someone is reading an email they do not have the luxury of hearing the inflection of your voice, or seeing the smile on your face, so something that may have been meant as a joke could be completely offensive. It is also easy to lose that personal relationship when emailing. Emails tend to be short, direct, and to the point. Rarely does someone take the time to ask how someone is doing, or how did things work out with the problem they last discussed. This is a personal touch that many people base their buying decision on. There are also issues with grammar. Most people count solely on spell check and don’t bother to reread the email before hitting send. This can also cause problems and misunderstandings, not to mention make it look like you have poor writing skills.
Texting is a whole different topic. In the world of texting it is all about acronyms. When you consider spell check there are hundreds of examples of inappropriate texts that have gone out due to spell check. (Just Google “texting errors” and you are in for hours of humorous reading.) Once again, texting is usually very direct and people don’t take the time to make things personal.
While many of these issues I have spoken about illustrate problems with emails and texting, one of the biggest problems comes when there is a conflict. In the office community people tend to be very brave and confrontational through written communication. However, should they actually have to pick up the phone, or be face to face, they are often much more cooperative in finding a quick resolution to a situation. Also most of the time, these argumentative emails will start to build a large amount of CC’s with every reply. When it is all said and done there has been multiple people brought into a simple conflict that could have been settled with a two minute phone call between two people.
The most valid point I have heard from people on why they prefer to use emails and texting is for documentation. When you use emails and texting as a form of communication you have written record of what was said, and who said what, throughout the conversation. While this is true, you can also accomplish the same thing by picking up the phone, having that conversation, and then sending an email or text recapping what was discussed and the details of what was agreed upon during the phone call. That way you still have the personal touch, avoid any misunderstandings, and have documented the whole conversation in writing.
Another issue I have is that we are becoming too dependent on these devices. Just the other day a good friend of mine lost his cell phone and was unable to call his girlfriend to come get him. He had to call me because he knew my number by heart from years of friendship and before our new phones were a staple in everyday life. He actually didn’t know his girlfriend’s number of several years, since all he had to do was look her name up in the phone and press send. How many of us would be in that same situation with our business contacts should we lose our phone?
However, all the other points combined do not add up to the biggest problem with today’s technology. It is the safety factor! We all know about the lady who walked into a fountain because she was too busy reading her email and texting, while funny to watch on Youtube, it is sad that we have become so distracted that we are putting ourselves and others in danger. All of us have also experienced the person swerving all over the road trying to text and read emails, or talk on the phone while driving. It’s hard to imagine a time when people could just wait until they got home to make a phone call. But In today’s world we are all at risk because somebody’s texts, emails, or phone calls are more important than our safety.
In closing, I think that technology is a great thing. In fact I am an ‘early adopter’. I always have to have the newest gadget that comes out. However, I don’t want dependence on these gadgets to do my job and live my life, to cost me my life. While I continue to watch the ways of communication grow, I can’t help but notice that everyone’s heads are down reading or typing on their phones or they have headphones in their ears everywhere I go, but yet little is being said. It is imperative that while technology continues to give us tools to be more efficient, that we don’t lose the one skill that has allowed us to invent the technology in the first place, communication! So do us all a favor and hang up the phone and drive, and when the opportunity comes to have dialogue between a team member or customer, once and while, just pick up the phone, or walk down the hall, and say hello. You might be surprised at the improved communication that will follow.