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Step Away From The Computer Wed 08 Jul 09

Don't Let Technology Inhibit Communication

Avatars brtsergio E-mail, instant messaging and social media tools such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter have dramatically changed the way we communicate. While technology has made communication easier, it hasn't necessarily improved the quality of our communication.

The reason: We can hide behind technology and avoid the human interaction that is essential for good communication. But this doesn't mean we should abandon our technology. Rather, we need to strike a moderated balance in our use of technology.

Have you ever had conversation like this?

You: Joe, where are we on this project?
Joe: I've emailed Sam for the information but I haven't heard back.
You: Give him a call, we really need that information soon.
Joe: Okay, I'll send him another email but he never answers me back.
You: Don't email, give him a call.
Joe: Email is easier, I'll just try that again but don't expect any different results.
You (trying carefully to contain your frustration): No call him - better yet go see him and talk him.  Explain what we need and why and ask for his help.
Joe: Well okay if you think that is really necessary.

Another common scenario is the endless e-mail chain back and forth, in which people are talking at each other rather than with each other. At lot gets said but not a lot gets accomplished.

As leaders, we need to take action to force better communication. Communications technologies should be a supplement to personal communication and relationships--not a substitute. We need to break down the barriers of technology when they are inhibiting communication.

Some things you can do:

  • Hold inter-departmental meetings so people get to know each other.
  • If you have staff in different locations, have an annual conference that allows your people to exchange ideas in an informal manner.
  • Throw an ice cream party and invite other departments so your staff gets to meet people in other areas and form relationships.
  • Implement a "three-e-mail rule.” After the third e-mail exchange--you send an e-mail, get a reply, you reply again--try to resolve the problem face-to-face or over the phone if people are in different locations.
  • When practical, arrange for your staff to travel to other locations to meet people and learn how the business operates.
  • Give your staff the opportunity make presentations to other groups as a way to build relationships.
  • When working on larger projects, physically embed your staff with the other departments.
  • Work with Human Resources to get training on different communications styles, how to recognize them and how to communicate effectively across styles.
  • Status meetings rather than impersonal status reports can provide opportunity for improving communications between team members.

As a leader, your job is to break down barriers and provide the needed resources. Don't mistake the flow of e-mails and instant messages for communication--sometimes an over-use of technology can be a barrier to good communication. Get out in front and take steps to force improved communications, even if that means downplaying technology.

What methods have you used to improve communications?

"Avatars" photo by brtsergio 

This article is also posted on Forbes.com.  Feel free to join in the discussion either on this site or at Forbes.com

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