We all seem to live and breathe social media. Sending a message and staying connected is as easy as it can get. Technology is essentially transforming traditional methods and revolutionizing the way we communicate with one another. Today, we have to stay relevant, informed, and up-to-date on the newest communication channels and incorporate them into our range of daily activities. However to build meaningful connections between people, we need to let technology enhance our communication, rather than dictate it. As new communication technological advancements become available, our temptation is also to spend less time on face-to-face interactions at the risk of losing the critical context of our message.
Of course, texts, e-mails and social media can dramatically impact the speed and volume of messages, but therein also lies the danger in allowing the subtle aspects of dialogue and personality to fall by the wayside Face-to-face discussions are the foundation of human communication; once established, it allows us to build trust, clearly articulate our ideas and minimize misunderstanding. However, for many of us, face-to-face communication seems to be a dying art – replaced by text messaging, e-mails, and social media. Human communication and interactions are getting shaped by available technologies. Thus we have to ask – in today’s tech-savvy world, are we really connected or essentially disconnected? Is social media sabotaging the art of personal communication?
On a crisp Friday afternoon last October, Sharon Seline exchanged text messages with her daughter who was in college. They ‘chatted’ back and forth, mom asking how things were going and daughter answering with positive statements followed by emoticons showing smiles, b-i-g smiles and hearts(\/). Happiness…. Later that night, her daughter attempted suicide.
In the days that followed, it came to light that she’d been holed up in her hostel room, crying and showing signs of depression — a completely different reality from the one that she conveyed in texts, Facebook posts and tweets . (Courtesy; Forbes magazine, April2012) As human beings, our only real method of connection is through authentic communication. Studies show that only 7% of communication is based on the written or verbal word. A whopping 93% is based on nonverbal body language. Indeed, it’s only when we can hear a tone of voice or look into someone’s eyes that we’re able to know when “I’m fine” doesn’t mean they’re fine at all…or when “I’m just sad” means they’re thoroughly depressed. Flooded in technology, anyone can hide behind the text, the e-mail, the Facebook post or the tweet, projecting any image they want and creating an illusion of their choice.
They can be whoever they want to be and without the ability to see or feel, their audiences are none the wiser. Every relevant metric shows that we are interacting at breakneck speed and frequency through social media. But are we really communicating? With 93% of our communication context stripped away, we are now attempting to forge relationships and make decisions based on phrases, abbreviations, snippets, emoticons which may or may not be accurate representations of the truth. This presents an unprecedented paradox. With all the powerful social technologies at our fingertips, we are more connected – and potentially more disconnected – than ever before. This is where social media gets dicey.
Communication Barriers: New Dimensions
Social technologies have broken the barriers of space and time, enabling us to interact 24/7 with more people all over the world. The focus is now on communication quantity rather than quality and Superficiality against authenticity? But like any revolutionary concept, it has initiated a new set of barriers and threats. It is an ironic situation where social media has the potential to make us less social; a surrogate for the real thing. For it to be a truly effective communication vehicle, communicators bear a responsibility to be genuine, accurate, and not allow it to replace human contact altogether. In the workplace, the use of electronic communication has overtaken face-to-face and voice-to-voice communication by a wide margin. This major shift has been driven by two major forces: the speed/geographic dispersion of business, and the lack of comfort with traditional interpersonal communication among a growing segment of our employee population: Gen Y and Millennials. Studies show that these generations – which will comprise more than 50% of the workforce by 2020 – would prefer to use instant messaging or other social media than stop by and talk with someone.
This new communication preference is one of the “generational gaps” plaguing organizations as employers try to manage a new set of expectations and norms in their younger employees. The majority of the world’s largest businesses are using social media with little thought as to how it can contribute to the organization’s overall strategy and that its use is destroying the integrity of face-to-face conversations and replacing it with “hidden conversations”. This is arguably true to some extent with many companies confused as to the role it should play inside the corporate framework. Further, because most business communication is now done via e-mails, texts, instant messaging, intranets, blogs, websites and other technology enabled media, minus body language, the potential for misinterpretation is growing.
Rushed and stressed, people often do not take the time to consider the nuances of their writing. Conflicts explode over a tone of an e-mail, or that all-important cc: list. When someone writes a text in all capital letters, does it mean they are “shouting”? Are one- or two-word responses a sign that the person doesn’t want to engage? On the flip side, does a smiley face or an abbreviated acknowledgement of agreement really mean they are all set and aligned? Unfortunately conclusions are drawn on frighteningly little information.
In this wired world when we have only abridged words and faceless chats instead of voice, face and body expression how then do we communicate effectively and build more authentic relationships? Leaders must consider the impact on business relationships and the ability to effectively collaborate, build trust, and create employee engagement and loyalty. Susan Tardanico, leadership and communications executive coach, consultant and professional speaker and CEO of the Authentic Leadership Alliance LLC suggests certain ways for keeping communication real
Suggestions for Keeping E-Communication Real
•Address your issues. If you are drawing a conclusion about experiencing a conflict based on an electronic exchange, then pick up the phone or have a face-to-face conversation to clear things up. •Me first. Make an effort to check your own communications to ensure you aren’t sending an inaccurate message. Take steps to put forth an accurate picture of reality. •Bridging the gap. As employees and employers, there are chances of dealing with different generations who have noticeably different communication preferences. Talk with colleagues about this aspect and ask for input on the best way to keep communication flowing through the team.
•Stay connected. Don’t fall prey to the comfort of sitting behind closed doors and doing all your work from behind a computer screen or the hand-held device. No doubt it takes the pressure off many of the complexities of management, but this also disconnects us from face to face connections. Find a way to stay connected with colleagues; employee relationship is one of the determining factors for level of engagement and loyalty to the organization. •Beware of the disconnect. An eloquent and motivating online communication is easy to write. But if our words are not consistent with our actions and reality, this disconnect will harm our credibility and impede our ability to work effectively. •Two-way communication. Communication is essentially a two-way process. Just because you’ve fired off an e-mail or text, it doesn’t mean communication has taken place. We must pay attention to the feedback to see if our message is understood and accepted.
Considering that this trend is here to stay, we need to create cultures where managers, employees and stakeholders renew their efforts to get at the real messages and issues. When colleagues spend personal time we can expect better working abilities. Correlations between face-to-face relationship-building and employee engagement and loyalty are a concept that has been proven again and again over the years. This has also been excellently explored in the concept “Management by Walking Around” in Tom Peters’ groundbreaking book In Search of Excellence. As global citizens of a technologically-enabled world we must find a way to incorporate all the amazing benefits which mediated communication has to offer while ensuring that we aren’t losing the human touch with the most significant personal and professional relationships.