How Technology is Cramping Your Communication Style

When I began to study and learn about communication skills oh so long ago there were no mobile phones, or tablets, or smart watches. In fact computers themselves had not long been present in a consistent way in mainstream business. All communication between people was face to face or perhaps on paper in writing. We learned about the importance of feedback in communication.

Feedback is not just verbal or direct feedback, I learned to notice non verbal signs of how my communication message was being received. The significance of eyes widening or eyebrows rising which probably meant that the other person was shocked or surprised in some way about what I had said. Changes to breathing rate or depth of breath in terms of whether the other person was going to speak up or if they were holding something back. Noticing a facial expression change from a smile or to a smile as we were speaking. All of these things are clearly noticeable and gave direct and immediate feedback.

Why is that important? Because it allowed me (or whoever was speaking) to tweak and adjust the message style to maintain rapport and the connection with the other person.

The other thing that immediate feedback does is makes the speaker more accountable for the impact of what is being said and how to best deliver it so the intent of the message is understood. People often say they get tongue tied when with others yet they have no hesitation typing out a message. Why is that? Because there is a barrier between us when we use technology to deliver a message. There is no immediate feedback – I can type this blog and not be concerned about how each sentence is going to be interpreted or “heard”. I just send the message out and if there is any feedback there will be a delay.

Now technology and social media can be very fast with feedback and responses yet there is a delay of some sort. And in addition to that the feedback comes in exactly the same way the original message was sent – via words.

Let’s take an example. Person A sits down with person B and begins to tell them about their amazing weekend out partying with friends and dancing the night away at an awesome party. Person B frowns a little and turns slightly away.

What does that possibly tell you? There are a number of different possibilities:

– person B may feel left out at not having been invited

– person B may assume that their was alcohol involved and as a non drinker is not impressed

– person B may have a sore back/leg/knee and has moved to get more comfortable

– person B might have heard about a violent incident that happened later and is glad the friend was not involved

– lots more that you can think of and I won’t list

So, in a face to face conversation person A will notice that feedback and might ask a question.

If the comments about the evening and the party are on social media the only way for person B to respond is to type something. A questions such as “Did you have fun?” may look simple but it could be sarcastic. Why is this? Another communication tip that I learned was that only 7% of our communication is transmitted by our words. The remaining 93% is interpreted through body language and tone of voice.

That is right – communicating on social media add even this blog post is only using 7% of the available avenue to get a message across.

That is why it often takes longer to write an email, and a longer email, than if you were to speak directly to someone and be conscious of how the message is received.

I compare this to putting a sheet of A4 paper with a pin sized hole in it in front of your face to assess the world around you. Sure you can see a little bit through the hole, but only part of the picture. Imaging viewing beautiful or historical art such as the Mona Lisa for the first time through that tiny hole. You’d take such a long time to see the whole picture if you managed to persist that long and you would probably get an entirely different perspective.

So, why is this relevant on the website of a professional speaker and coach?

Because I speak and coach in the area of improving the effectiveness of working relationships.  I help people to be better, more effective communicators. And one of the things that I see very often is an over reliance on communicating via the keyboard rather than in person.

Yes it can be far easier and quicker to type a message than it is to call someone or speak to them. But think back to a time when an email you sent or a tweet you posted or a facebook post was misread by a friend and led to a longer exchange. Even some SMS exchanges grow to be really long because multiple texts are needed to sort out confusion and misunderstanding.

Please think about using the keyboard less and your direct contact with individuals more often. Especially when the topic is delicate or tricky.

We seem to be losing our familiarity and proficiency with the ability to choose words carefully and deliver messages well.

Sometimes the way to show that we care is to talk something through, even when it is hard for us to say and hard for them to hear, lets value the relationship and rapport more than a few minutes of discomfort.

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