Electronic Communication is for Cowards

Posted on: January 22, 2015 at 6:48 pm

How times have changed.

As a high school teacher I anticipated students passing notes among themselves during a class. My fun was intercepting them in such a way that the students knew I had them, would read them, and react to their comments in front of the class. There was no chance for anonymity. You had to be somewhat courageous to pass a note.

As a facilitator of meetings and a corporate trainer I am facing a different situation. Notes are now being passed during workshops and meetings electronically. The note passers may be miles apart and I have little chance of reading the actual note much less identifying writers and recipients. No courage required.

In this age of ever developing technology communication is accomplished in a variety of ways each one smaller than the next. The most obvious is the laptop computer/ipad/notebook with email, instant messaging, and Skype. Followed by the cell phone with email, texting, and Facetime.

As a facilitator of meetings and a corporate trainer I have heard the reasons executives give for communicating this way.

“I can IM my teammate across the room to remind him to ask a specific question during a meeting.”

“I can email a colleague across the country (or in the adjoining cubicle!) to send me a file I need immediately.”

“I can text my boss with additional information she could use to support the topic on the table.”

Now I follow the logic of this reasoning. I am, however, frustrated with this method of communication. It seems to me that this form of communication allows us to avoid real human communication. It allows us to hide our emotions inside the written word. It fosters our cowardice in limiting how we verbally engage in conversation with others. It gives us a false sense of true communication. And it can cause serious miscommunication.

At the least communication requires two people – one to talk and one to listen.

Please pay attention to my written words here – notice I did not say, “listen” to my written words. I know there are many times and situations where electronic communication is not only the more efficient and effective method of communication. It is also the most appropriate.

In most households today parents with more than one child are working outside of the home. From experience I will tell you being able to get information on when and where to pick up the kids is a vital part of the parenting/chauffeuring process. Text messaging is THE BEST way to communicate.

In a business setting, however, it can lead to miscommunication and affect the outcome of a project.

Here’s an example.

Person 1 texts the boss with: “I have an idea about this project”. She explains the idea and hits the send button with confidence.

Boss texts back: “What are you thinking?”

Hmmm, what do you think could be her reaction to the boss’s text? Let’s consider some options.

Read #1: “WHAT are you thinking?” Reaction: Fear because she “knows” the boss hates the idea and can’t believe she was thinking what she was thinking.

Read #2: “What ARE you thinking?” Reaction: Insecurity because she “knows” the boss thinks this is a stupid idea and wonders why he ever put her on the project.

Read #3: “What are you THINKING!” Reaction: Panic because she “knows” the boss now sees her as totally incompetent.

As it turns out none of her reactions played out in reality.

After calming herself down, she faced her fear, insecurity, and panic, called the boss and asked to speak with him about her original text. He agreed and she walked down the corridor to his office to speak with him. (Hmmm, do you think that might have been the more appropriate, reliable way of communicating her idea in the first place? Oh well, too late now.)

Here’s the reality.

Person 1 texts the boss with: “I have an idea about this project”. She explains the idea and hits the send button with confidence.

Boss texts back: “What are you thinking?” He wants to know her thought process, to better understand her ideas.

They worked out her idea. He got a good laugh out of her reactions and she learned a valuable lesson in using face-to-face communication.

So here’s what I’m asking you to do.

Remember that communication, by definition, is an exchange of information between individuals for the purpose of building mutual understanding.

STOP assuming that the inflections you put into your electronic communication are being heard by the receiver.

START connecting with people in person when you want to really communicate.

REMEMBER that these electronic devices are created by humans to enhance human communication and develop more meaningful relationships.

Let’s be brave. Let’s develop our humanness and communicate face to face as much as we can.

You can start by calling me directly with your comments on this blog. I’d like to hear from you directly.

Thanks for reading.