Face To Face Communication: Why It’s At Risk From Modern Media At Work

Introduction

So called “modern”communication techniques often devalue the spoken word. Yet the spoken word - face to face communication – is still the quickest and most fruitful way to exchange views, sort out disagreements and create common ground for future action.

What’s “Face To Face” Communication?

Face to face communication occurs whenever two or more people talk at work. Formal structures aren’t necessary. A casual chat, a 30 second phone call, a few words exchanged in a car park: all these can create effective face to face communication. You don’t need keyboards, cell phones or screens of any kind.

What About The Message?

Email, texting, blogging and twittering and the like may be inexpensive, fashionable and fun. But are they effective? The purpose of communication at work is to clarify meaning, improve understanding, share information and get things done: improve on- job performance. If that doesn’t occur, the communication’s incomplete. And it wastes lots of time.

The Medium Is The Message: Or Is It?

Back in 1964, Marshall McLuhan’s book “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” contained a catchphrase that was to become part of everyday language, “The medium is the message”. It seems history may have proven him partially correct at least. So many people seem to believe that sending a text message or an email is enough. It isn’t.

Consequences of Current Practice

Sooner or later we have to talk to each other at work. All the written words will ultimately be confirmed face to face. By over using non verbal media we forget that successful face to face communication requires skill. And that’s the problem.

The Reality

Regardless of emails and all the other one way technology, the workplace is an absolute hive of face to face communication. Managers who are skilled at handling this hive will find the workplace a more honeyed place than those who don’t.

Some Suggestions For Effective Face To Face Communication

•  Stop emailing: start talking. Use email to initiate or confirm the outcomes of discussion. It is not an alternative.

• Resolve never, ever again to say ”I sent him – or her – a text message about it”. Text messages, with their trendy vocabulary and sense of urgency, don’t absolve their senders of responsibility for “getting the message across”.

•  Before you reach for your cell phone ask yourself, “Do I need to  speakto this person right now?” or “Should I interrupt?” or “Can this wait until later?” Cell phones have led lots of people to believe that they should be able to interrupt anyone, anytime, for any reason that suits them. We lived without this indulgent convenience for thousands of years. Waiting another 10 minutes won’t cause the world to end.

•  Become a ruthless editor of your own emails before you send them. These days every manager gets mountains of emails.Some are almost unintelligible because they’re written in haste. Enlightened self interest demands that yours are succinct, pertinent, relevant, interesting and easy to understand. Imagine the joy you’d feel if all the emails you received met these criteria…!

• When you next think “I’ll just send an email,” dismiss the thought. It might get the issue off your desk momentarily but what else will it achieve? Think instead about what you’re trying to achieve,  what action you want to occur, even how the intended recipient is likely to react,Think about these sorts of things first. Then decide on the media you should use to best achieve your goals.

Conclusion

Marshall McLuhan may have had a point. As managers, we must ask ourselves “Are we going to allow today’s so called communications media to dictate how we communicate with each other? Or are we going to use them professionally to our advantage to improve workplace communications and business results?”

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