If aliens are looking down at us from another planet and watching how we interact with each other, they would likely conclude that humans prefer interacting with devices and computers instead of with one another, face-to-face. The sad fact is that their conclusion would be correct. Just think – the very technology that was developed to help us become more efficient so we could spend more personal time with family and friends has turned on us, making us less social, and more isolated than ever.
This is equally troubling in the workplace where we are expected to interact with one another, build trusting relationships, communicate meaningful information and strategize within work teams to accomplish objectives. This is becoming increasingly difficult, as so many people not only rely on technology to communicate, it is, in some cases preferred, if not required. What mediums of communication do we have to choose from? I’ve narrowed it down to the four below, in the order of usage and popularity as I perceive it.
1. Email: This vehicle of communication trumps all, even in those cases where the people who are emailing are literally less than ten feet from each other. And even though we find this comical when people talk about it, many people still default to email versus getting up, moving our butts and having a real face-to-face conversation. Is it because we are turning into anti-social beings? Is it because at times we fear conflict and find it easier to hide behind email? Is it because we are lazy? Or is it because we have created our own CYA culture, feeling the need to have everything documented? The answer is yes, yes, yes and yes.
The use of email has crossed the line from being used to abused. In those cases where email communication is required (or your only option on certain occasions), it is critically important to be very clear and articulate in what you are communicating to eliminate any possible misinterpretation of your message by the receiver. For example, typing in all caps may save time, but is viewed as “yelling.” Also, it’s not uncommon for humor to be interpreted as sarcasm, an insult or as an accusation, so resist the urge unless you have an established relationship of humorous banter.
Furthermore, you can be more clear and efficient, when you use the skills of Active Listening and I-Messages (taught in leadership training programs by Dr. Gordon). These skills can help you make your “electronic conversations” more precise—and since there’s no body language, tone of voice or facial expressions to experience, that electronic communication MUST be super clear.
2. Texting: This was meant to be a convenient communication tool for people to send quick notes to each other. It comes in handy when we are in quiet places wishing to be discreet or in noisy places where talking would be very difficult. However, there are people who elect to have long, engaging conversations by pecking away at their tiny iPhone keyboards for hours on end. And, if one person feels it would be better to have a real conversation by actually talking, dials the number and gets voicemail, it can be hurtful.
3. Phone calls: Picking up the phone is much more personal than emailing and texting, and ideal when the person we are calling is not a short walk away. However, in phone conversations we do not establish eye contact and miss out on non-verbal communication, which accounts for 85 percent of communication.
4. Face-to-Face: This is the ideal way for two or more people to communicate with each other, and somehow it has become the least popular due to inconvenience, and at times, fear. And not only is it the ideal way, it was, up until technology upended our lives, the most natural way for people to communicate. From face-to-face communication, we experience optimal levels of empathy, trust and respect.
When digital communications replace human interactions between managers and employees, we cannot reasonably expect employees to have a sense of belonging or loyalty to managers, and likewise, managers cannot expect employees to form meaningful relationships with them. Email and text are employer/employee relationship killers, and we, as leaders, have a responsibility to ourselves and to our employees to change.
If we initiate more face-to-face communications with our employees and peers, we will all benefit from stronger connections and relationships. Give yourself the challenge.