As an Account Manager here at Coast Digital, communication is the most important part of my job. But in the fast-paced, tech-driven world we live in, I often find myself juggling a staggering amount of conversations on countless different devices at any given time.
Although communication is key to everything we do, I’ll readily admit that I occasionally long for simpler times, when conversing was a lot more straightforward and a lot less overwhelming!
Most days, I’m inundated with messages before the sun’s even risen, and by the time 8am rolls round, I’m communicating with at least 10 people about every type of event that graces the spectrum of life’s rich tapestry! Wedding chats, family updates, christening arrangements, birthday plans – you name it, there’s a chat about it. Remember the pre-WhatsApp days when you didn’t have to talk to anyone until you were settled at work with a coffee in hand? I know I do!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredible that we have a plethora of tech-based options for talking to each other – and let’s not forget that it’s extremely helpful in overcoming obstacles such as time and distance. We’re all well aware of the pros, but what about the cons?
In both workplace and social matters, is the rise in digital comms overshadowing the importance of face-to-face conversations?
After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve come up with some ideas that might help all of us avoid some of the pitfalls of communication in the digital age.
Words in a whirlwind
Instant messaging platforms like Slack – though valuable in their own right – come with some real ‘watch outs’ when used in the workplace.
Yes, IM is a quick and easy way to relay information – but in any given channel there can be X amount of conversations happening at once, and it’s usually not long before your information is pushed off-screen by the ongoing discussion. That makes your super-important information very easy to miss. And let’s face it, who really has the time to keep scrolling up to see what transpired while you were AFK?
Approximately 269 billion emails were sent and received each day in 2017. By 2021, this figure is expected to increase to almost 320 billion daily emails.
Solution: The original chatroom.
In situations like this, a good old fashioned meeting is the way to go. Gather your team members together in one room, and chat about the task at hand. A face-to-face forum in which to have a comprehensive discussion about whatever important thing is going on leaves less room for misunderstandings and errors.
Lost in translation
Compassion, empathy, seriousness, sarcasm. Emotions like these don’t translate well to textual conversations. Tone is so difficult to pick up on through typed talk, and let’s face it, we’re busy people, so we’re often prone to short, sharp responses with abbreviated intent. Remember, punctuation and the odd emoji can only take us so far.
Picture the scene, you’ve been absent a few days and come back to a long list of emails. Instinctively, our solution is to send quick-fire responses and get through that list ASAP. But we don’t always stop to think about how the recipient might perceive our words.
How many of us have sat and stared at an email, not quite sure what to make of it, unsure as to whether we should be annoyed or not? Probably most of us, maybe all of us.
It’s this kind of ambiguity that can so easily lead to inaccurate assumptions and tension within a team.
Solution: Know when to get up and go talk to the person in question. The nuances of emotion are much easier to detect in a vocal conversation.
“But that’s not always possible!” I hear you cry. And you’re right, it’s not. With clients and colleagues scattered all over the place, it’s not always feasible to have a face-to-face chat.
If there is significant distance between you and the person you need to speak with (and no, the other side of the office doesn’t count) then just pick up the phone. Many anxieties and misunderstandings can be laid to rest by just using our voices.
Employee 1: Presentation sorted?
Employee 2: Yes, stayed up all night and managed to complete it!
Employee 1: OK. Send it over.
Methods of digital communication keep multiplying, and yet ironically we’re becoming less social both online, and during the times when we occasionally climb out of our screens. One thought that I can’t quite shake is are we forgetting how to talk to each other?
Yeah, we’ve got loads of ways to talk now, but what are we saying? In the old days, when communicating was hard and distance was a real hurdle, people filled their hand-written correspondence with descriptive prose and caring words – they knew that their letter was merely a temporary substitute for the real thing. Is that still the case? I’m not so sure.
Solution: Keep it real.
Sometimes we all get too caught up in the rat race to remember our human need for meaningful contact.
There is lots of speculation as to the state of social affairs in the future. Take Black Mirror for example, the worst case scenarios we see in that show should be enough for all of us to stop and check ourselves. Yes, technology is incredible, and yes, we all enjoy the positive advancements it’s made to our lives, but let’s not forget to say kind words to each other, with our real live voices.