Hi-Tech Communication – Use With Caution

Technology can be great. It has made communication faster and easier and become an integral part of our everyday lives both personally and professionally. Many of us remember when business was done primarily through hard copy letters and memos, or old-fashioned telephone calls that sometimes required a written message to be taken if the party you called was unavailable at the time. And if you can imagine it, the telephone was tethered to the desk by a cord!

In the last few years alone we have seen an explosion in the use of text and instant messaging with portable devices that work virtually anywhere in the world. Contracts can be signed electronically, documents can be transmitted instantly via e-mail and stored on the cloud and almost daily we are introduced to new technologies and tools designed to increase the speed and efficiency of social interaction, commerce and communication. All that is great, but let’s slow down for a few minutes to consider whether these fast and convenient tools are good for our relationships.

Awhile back I wrote an e-mail message to a colleague. I thought the content of the message was direct and brief; simply objective and not charged with any emotional tones like anger, accusation or frustration. In other words, I felt it was efficient, businesslike and appropriate. Later, I discovered that my e-mail had been misinterpreted and actually offended the person. The recipient interpreted the brevity as terse and the directness as confrontational. That was nowhere near my intent, and yet when it went through the person’s filters, it seemed abrupt and uncaring. Once I met face-to-face with them I was able to clarify my message and let them know I was not upset at all.

I was glad the misunderstanding came to my attention so I could clear it up and restore our relationship – but I wonder how many times someone never speaks up about feeling offended by our communication and harbors resentment or feels rejected. It was a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

A workplace survey found that nearly 14% of a person’s workweek, or seven weeks out of the year, is wasted clarifying messages, due in part to having used high-tech, impersonal methods of communication. That nearly negates the time-saving opportunity that electronic communication offers. Some of the gaps in clarity come from situations like my email, in which the way I said something was too open to interpretation and easily misconstrued. It is important to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and re-read your messages before hitting “Send” in order to catch insensitive words before they do damage.

Another time-killer is trying to fit adequate information into a very brief message format. It doesn’t help to text a quick message, only to have it spark several follow-up texts. Complete communication needs to cover bases like where, when, what time, how, who is involved, and why. If all those questions need to be answered separately, you can lose the time you thought you were saving.

We need to be careful not to allow new technology to replace time spent with others in meaningful interaction. Taking the time to communicate a message in person could end up saving you a great deal of time by not having to clarify what you meant to say in your e-mail or text message. It’s this kind of “personal” communication that helps build and maintain strong relationships.

I have heard a lot of criticism of technology for communication that says it has replaced personal connections, and no doubt there is some truth to it. But there is also a great benefit in being able to easily touch base with someone you haven’t seen in awhile, or to share a word of encouragement even if a face to face meeting isn’t possible. A short email or Facebook post to let someone know you’re thinking of them can really lift their spirits, and a quick text to let someone know you’re going to be a little late is much more courteous than keeping someone wondering and waiting.

So, use every high-tech gadget available to you to get your business done and connect with people, but be careful to use those tools wisely. When in doubt, consider a smiley emoticon to keep your communication friendly.

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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