Some of my mentoring and coaching clients have significant communication challenges in their organisation. I constantly reinforce that they need to communicate more without texting, emailing, tweeting or whatever else one does on smart devices and laptops.
We are losing that all-important human interaction because of the perceived ease of these ‘communication’ tools.
In fact many people seem hell-bent on avoiding conversation altogther. Go to a public place and witness the number of people walking around with smart devices eagerly awaiting the next sms, email or whatever.
We are all guilty at times of falling for the perception that any response is acceptable – let’s focus on the live conversations at hand, rather than parallel conversations on a screen.
The bigger need is simply for more live conversation to occur-full stop. This is especially true when people are trying to resolve a conflict or communicate an important business decision. There is a major trend now of people trying to do digital conflict resolution. The de facto path for issue resolution seems to be via email. In fact, in many ways email now is a convenient mechanism for issue-avoidance. It seems easier, quicker, less stressful and confrontational to have challenging issues debated over email, versus a one-on-one with a colleague.
Like many in today’s workforce, I’ve experienced too many unproductive strings of back and forth emails or texts that should have stopped at round one. The problem with trying to resolve sensitive matters over email or text are obvious:
It’s hard to get EI (emotional intelligence) right in email communication…
The biggest drawback and danger with email is that the tone and context are easily misread. In a live conversation, the non-verbal cues plus tone of voice communicate way more than the literal words being spoken. With email it is often hard to get the feelings behind the words.
Email and text often promote reactive responses…
…as opposed to progress and action to move forward. Going back to zero latency expectation in digital communications, it’s hard for people to pause and think about what they should say ‘as their best selves’. We recommend not reacting to any incendiary message until you’ve had at least a night to sleep on it. While reactive responses occur in live discourse, they are usually more productive. The irony is that while email as an asynchronous channel has the potential to be more thoughtful, it often promotes the opposite tendency to be reactive. Why? Because the bark is almost always bigger than the bite behind remote digital shields.
Email prolongs debate and conflict…
Because of the two reasons above, I’ve seen too many debates continue well beyond the point of usefulness. Worse, I’ve experienced communication which start relatively benignly over email, only to escalate because intentions and interests are easily misunderstood online. When I ask people if they have called or asked to meet the counterpart to try and reach a resolution, there is usually a pause then a sheepish answer of ‘no’.
Email is one of the greatest productivity contributors of the past two and a half decades. Further, social communications media such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have positively enriched the means and reach with which we are able to interact.
Yet we have to recognise when such digital channels cannot substitute for a live conversation. Email and digital communications have created a generation of casually convenient new connections, and even helped us deepen existing relationships. They can rarely replace real communication in the real world, however.
Digital communication accelerates the pace at which people form and broaden relationships. It’s also decreasing the rate at which people are willing to resolve issues professionally and directly. The next time you experience an issue over email, sms or social media…pause. Ask yourself if it’s something that would be better served by a real conversation. Then have the courage to stop emailing or texting and pick up the phone. Even better, have a chat face-to-face if at all possible.