The other day I forgot my cell phone at home. I was in a rush to make it to a doctor’s appointment so I didn’t have time to turn back. I felt naked without it. What if I needed to respond to a client email? What if I needed to reach out to someone? And then I realized how ridiculous I was being. I wasn’t going to be gone that long. For years I functioned in a non-cellphone environment with no means of instant communication. I began to think about how often we rely on technology to allow us to communicate that we forget to find other ways to connect with those around us. This issue is not only impacting our social and family lives, but also our relationships at work.
The Science Behind It
What we know from researchers is that communication encompasses 3 components:
- Verbal – the words we use to communicate
- Para-verbal – the tone we use when communicating
- Non-verbal – the body language we use when communicating
Ideally all three components should be included when effectively communicating. This requires a face to face interaction. Though in our world of constant text messaging and emails, in most cases only our words are used and even then they aren’t verbalized. The surprising thing is words account for only 7% of our communication, tone of voice accounts for 38%, and body language accounts for 55%. That means that when we rely heavily on technology to send just e-messages, we are eliminating 93% of our ability to effectively communicate. Given those numbers, we should all put down our phones, step away from our computers and walk over to our colleagues and chat with them face to face. The reality is we are going to continue to use emails, instant messaging, and text to communicate, however, we need to be aware of when we should avoid these medium. It’s best to communicate face to face when:
- Meeting someone for the first time
- Trying to build trust with a new client / colleague
- Discussing a difficult / contentious issue
- Providing feedback / coaching / performance reviews
- Thanking someone for a great job
- Demonstrating empathy and compassion for a difficult situation
Our ability to convey our true message through eye contact, body language and tone will come through much more effectively when having personal, meaningful and important discussions face to face. You can always follow up with an email or text afterwards.
Put Down Your Phone & Look Up
There have been several social campaigns about putting down your phone or looking up from your screen and enjoying the world around you. I particularly like this one:
These types of videos are geared at Gen Ys to encourage them to not be so tethered to their phones, to engage more with people directly, and to avoid this illusion of having so many “friends” on social media while really lacking deeper connections. This is a criticism that many clients have of younger employees. They accuse them of not having strong communication skills because they rely too heavily (from their perspective) on emails and instant messaging and don’t meet, speak and engage with colleagues, leaders and clients face to face. Leaders need to set the tone for their organization by being more accessible, booking more face to face meetings and hosting events where diverse teams interact live. If your organization struggles with having more effective, clear and truthful conversations then you may want to consider how to build your own campaign to encourage people to stand up from their desks, look up from their screens and stop relying so heavily on technology to communicate. Ask your youngest, most tech savvy colleagues how they can use technology to build a campaign that will ultimately encourage less technology use. This will blend the best of both worlds – attract people through their screens to engage beyond them. What to Do? As I sat in the doctor’s office, I was amazed at how awkward it felt to not be looking at my phone. I just sat there. Waiting. Then I ended up talking to someone else and then reading a magazine that wouldn’t have looked at, had I been on my phone. At one point, I just sat their quietly thinking about what I wanted to say to a colleague when I got back to the office. I noticed I rarely take the time to do that. These are things we can all do to more effectively communicate:
- Talk to someone you wouldn’t normally speak to if you were on your phone. Try it in line at the coffee shop, waiting for an appointment or while sitting beside someone on a plane. Practicing this will make it easier to engage with other colleagues, clients and leaders when the opportunity presents itself.
- Take time to think about what messages you want communicate and the best medium to do so. Keep in mind how the other person might like to receive the message. Which medium will allow you be as clear and effective as possible?
- If you always email, pick up the phone. If you always call, make an appointment to meet. If you always meet face to face, follow up with a text message. Vary your medium of communication.
- Leverage technology to create greater opportunities for face to face meetings. Use Facetime or Skype to allow you to use verbal, para-verbal and non-verbal communication. Create a Facebook group to schedule fun, interactive team or client events. Email a video that allows you to effectively convey your message.
Technology is a great enabler to communication, we simply need to leverage it so that we can build strong relationships in our workplaces and connect with people in way that our messages are clearly understood, effectively communicated and help build trust and engagement.