Recovering the Lost Art of Human Communication

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Recovering the Lost Art of Human Communication
July 18, 2017

A business trade organization is recognizing Board member contributions during a recent breakfast meeting. Hundreds are in attendance, but there are so many awards that the audience is losing interest and starting to chat with others at their tables. But then the speaker introduces one Board member by saying “when she needs to talk to you, she does it in person…. which is SO POWERFUL.”

The inflection of awe in the speaker’s voice is so strong that it gets the room’s attention and speaks volumes on how as a society we have lost the art of human communication. It seems that every day there are more articles and blogs posts on the subject of technology and how it is impeding our ability to communicate, rather than enhancing it. There are even medical opinions that show a real cost to the human race in the form of a lack of emotional maturity of our young.

In “Technology and Work Relationships: Knock, knock, who’s there?” Marie-Noelle Morency discusses how organizations are being impacted:

No-one can argue that technology has impacted the workplace in positive ways. It simplifies processes and how work gets done. It improves working conditions, increases security, and simplifies communication and the flow and exchange of information. Workers around the world can work on the same document, at the same time, in real time. Technology increases worker mobility, freeing them from their desks, allowing them to work from home, their car or anywhere in the world they have Internet access. Technology supporters claim that technology improves work relationships because it promotes sharing and collaboration.

People who work remotely love the flexibility and work/life balance it supports. On the flip side, the loss of physical proximity to colleagues affects a person’s ability to refine their interpersonal skills, and therefore their ability to build relationships in important ways. Instead of a co-worker break at the water cooler, they’re folding laundry. They can become isolated and lose their face-to-face interpersonal skills, which negatively impacts the workplace relationships they do have. They may be part of a virtual team, but there’s not a lot of space or time for small talk – the way people relate to the work they do that helps build interpersonal relationships in the workplace.

Being in the presence of someone allows us to not only hear what they’re saying, but also to read and assess body language, non-verbal and emotional cues, and determine appropriate responses. Fewer misunderstandings and more opportunities for clarification come along with this kind of communication. This doesn’t even take into account the assumption technology makes of us that we be available 24/7 because, thanks to technology, we are.

So while the benefits that technology provides in the forms of cost and time efficiencies cannot be disputed, we still have to recognize that human beings are built for personal relationships and that a true connection cannot be duplicated any other way but in person.

It’s important for organizations to coach and train their younger employees on the value of taking the time to connect with colleagues and prospects without the use of a smartphone or computer. In “How Millennials Can Best Communicate Face-to-Face,”:

It’s alarming how many clients share with me how often Millennials miss opportunities for promotions or closing the sale due to their lack of face-to-face communication skills.

The article goes on to discuss how a blended communication skill set of high-tech and high-touch would serve any generation well today. However, the biggest communication gap seems to be Millennials communicating face-to-face with previous generations that value such an interaction. For Millennials who want to maximize their influence, they must become double threats and connect with others effectively online as well as genuinely offline.

Whether it’s a meeting, presentation, or group discussion, every face-to-face communication is a ripe opportunity to make an impression and solidify a connection. In order to elevate their influence, Millennials should apply these five rules when engaged in face-to-face communication.

  1. Be prepared. Face-to-face communication deserves forethought. You’ll waste your time and other’s if you schedule a meeting and don’t know the direction or purpose of the communication. Before the face-to-face communication, gather your thoughts and establish the purpose and desired outcome.
  2. Be present. Face-to-face communication deserves full attention. Much like driving a car, if you allow your mobile device to distract you, the likelihood of veering off course increases dramatically. Stay focused on the conversation at hand. Preparedness and intentional note taking will help you stay present. Diffuse the urge to multi-task by getting caught up on email, texts, and social media prior to the face-to-face communication. Do not check your phone unless you are expecting an urgent message at which point communicate the urgent need up front before conversing.
  3. Be attentive. Face-to-face communication deserves full participation. Great conversation is like a tennis match. One person serves up their thoughts and the other reciprocates, back and forth, back and forth. To successfully hit the ball over the net, you must pay close attention to the communicator’s words, body language, and tone of voice. Resist the urge to hijack the conversation with personal stories or anecdotes. Instead add to the dialogue with strong eye contact, clarifying questions, head nods, and a smile.
  4. Be concise. Face-to-face communication deserves brevity. Building rapport with small talk can be helpful but limit it to less than a few minutes. Put a time limit on the conversations so you both can stay on point. Preparation will enable confident and clear communication, and those whom you communicate with will appreciate your focus and clarity.
  5. Be respectful. Face-to-face communication deserves appreciation. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” Great advice. No matter who you come face-to-face with, know that they can teach you something. Respect their perspective and appreciate their experience and learn from it.

Yes, it’s more time consuming at the front end, but you will avoid misperceptions that communicating via technology invariably creates, leading to your success long-term. And, you may just make some new friends along the way.

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