Last week, after having a somewhat frustrating email exchange with a colleague, it struck me how much this new environment has changed our communication practices – and the impact it could have on productivity, creativity and relationships.
Aside from group meetings now being conducted primarily via Zoom, it seems as though many one-on-one conversations that used to happen in person or via phone have become a series of non-verbal exchanges via email, texts or Slack messages.
While these methods can be very efficient at times, they are not ideal for meaningful exchanges, and cannot replace the tried and true methods we’ve used for decades (or longer): phone calls and face-to-face conversations (even if they are digitally driven). Here’s why.
- Tone (mis)interpretation. Perhaps the biggest challenge with non-verbal communication is the lack of – or worse, misinterpretation of – tone. We “hear” the words as we believe people are speaking to us. And, depending on our mood, relationship with other person or just general assumptions, it is easy to misinterpret. Perhaps we should sing emails in our heads instead. Or, easier, try a phone call.
- Context loss. It’s not rare for text/email threads to build to 30-40 messages over a series of days (or even weeks). Or even worse, be disbursed over a series of different threads. It’s easy to lose track of what really matters and what’s most current. Just pick up the phone.
- Unwelcome/unexpected interruption. Given the number of text messages/emails we receive every day, along with all the other constant life/home/office distractions, it is highly unlikely that our non-verbal communications are getting read as carefully as we’d like. To get someone’s full attention, talk directly to them – and even better, look them in the eye when doing so.
- Delayed response. One off my biggest pet peeves is when someone says “I tried to reach them, but they haven’t yet responded to my email (or text).” Remember that these messages go into a queue with hundreds or even thousands of others. If it’s urgent… do I really need to say it?
- Impersonal exchange. While niceties can be exchanged via text-only channels, such communications are often better when you just get to the point (avoid TLDR). Although, if you are too short, you risk seeming curt (see point #1). If you really want to build a relationships, make the effort to actually have a conversation.
While the email exchange I noted earlier caused frustration, I did eventually pick up the phone and have a conversation. Of course, most of the frustration was caused by many of the items noted above. With a fairly short call, not only did we resolve our issues, but also strengthened our relationship.
I hope you enjoyed this post and it inspires you to actually have one-on-one verbal conversations with your colleagues, family, friends and others. Not only will your relationships grow stronger, but so will your productivity.
Small Army | Finn Partners