Take a moment to think about the quality of your conversations. With technology so entwined in daily life, it’s easy to neglect holding actual conversations. Have you ever sat on a train or other public space and noticed just how many people constantly stare into their phones? According to Nielsen, American adults spend half their day looking at media.
Perhaps this isn't so surprising after all. In our digital-centric society, we've become so accustomed to email, texting, social media, and other forms of electronic communication, looking at screens has become instinctual. With such a high level of connectivity, you'd think people would have stronger levels of communication. Unfortunately, in many ways, it's having the opposite effect. Here's why.
Face-to-face conversations losing out to tech
Technology can create an "illusion of connection" as people become more dependent on their devices. Recent statistics suggest people in the U.S. spend just a mere 39 minutes a day in face-to-face conversations. Sadly, studies are also concluding people are becoming lonelier as technology-based communications exceed in-person conversations. This is proving especially true for younger generations.
In the business setting, this is a crucial point. Lonely team members are more likely to experience decreased productivity levels and be less engaged with their jobs. As it is, 67 percent of business executives and managers already say their organizations "would be more productive" if personal discussions were to take place more frequently.
Gen Z is just entering the workforce. How will organizations operate if an entire generation moves away from face-to-face communication because previous generations aren't giving them the personal communications they crave? Studies show Gen Z, while highly proficient with technology, is worried about it weakening their communication abilities and hindering their ability to develop people skills.
Using electronic productivity tools are useful but they shouldn't replace in-person communication. While technology is a valuable way to link people together, if it serves as a hard barrier between them, it runs the risk of creating the opposite effect because it ultimately places more distance.
Digital overwhelm is a real risk
Another rising concern is digital overwhelm. Statistics show an increasing number of workers are burned out at work. Two significant contributors are a lack of managerial support and the added stress of feeling obligated to answer texts, emails, and other digital communications during off-hours. After a day of being plugged in, this can lead to exhaustion.
It is not uncommon for one mass email to generate dozens, if not hundreds, of responses. Most of which could have been resolved in a quick meeting or, at the very least, a video or phone conference. If you stop and truly think about it, how many digital communications throughout your workday would have been handled more efficiently in person?
Everyone needs a break from work and electronics. Digital overwhelm can easily lead to burnout. Managers who create an environment that allows true "off" time will find better results when it comes to things such as efficiency, engagement, and productivity.
Psychological impact of digital communication
After a time of consistent communicating done in front of a screen, it can become hard for many people to associate the fact there is a real person on the other side. In some ways, it's like we've become immune and, as a result, we've created a high level of disconnect.
The psychological impact of too much electronic communication can be severe. For organizations to sustain themselves in the long-term, personal interactions are necessary. If employees begin to feel disconnected from clients and colleagues and vice versa, they'll have a hard time understanding the needs of each other. This ultimately could lead to a break in these relationships.
Negative effects on personal relationships
Creating organizational cultures that are missing the "human" element can have a negative impact on personal relationships. Text-based communications typically lack nuance, so it's easy for messages to be misunderstood. Moreover, when people rely on digital communication as the "main mode of relating", they can become uncomfortable with in-person conversations. When face-to-face discussions are avoided, it begins to feel unnatural and foreign and, as a result, people begin to steer clear of doing it. The effects on relationships can be disastrous.
- Miscommunication leads to increased conflict and/or resentment.
- Fragile communication weakens relationships.
- Text communications keep true emotions and reactions in the shadows which can lead to divergence in the workplace.
- Body language is an important piece of effective communication, tech removes it from the equation.
- Tech is a distraction when people are having actual conversations (i.e. constantly checking phone during an in-person discussion).
All of these factors contribute to the erosion of personal relationships. In-person communication is a necessary component to building trust and growing credibility. Not to mention, collaboration grows innovation. When colleagues put cyber-distance between themselves, this can stagnate creativity and put a damper on overall organizational growth. These are just a handful of reasons why in-person communication is so important.
How to have good conversations
Create a culture of conversation in your organization, we believe it's important to emphasize the human aspect of relationships. By putting a focus on good conversation, you can increase efficiency, boost productivity, and foster stronger relationships.
- Encourage meaningful dialogue. Meaningful dialogue is crucial to achieving change in the workplace, not to mention, it sparks creativity and drives new ideas.
- Practice open discussion. It's OK not to hide behind a screen to have real conversations, the most meaningful discussions are often the ones rooted in honesty.
- Make conversations count. Conversations start and drive executions in the organizational setting—make them frequent and purposeful.
- Ask questions. Ask questions that pertain to everyday pleasantries, but be truly interested in responses. For example, don't ask how someone is doing on a project to be polite, be sincere about wanting an honest answer.
- Create two-way conversations. Communicate and give routine feedback to employees, but allow them the same courtesy. Strive to be an active listener and allow your employees to feel heard.
- Avoid being judgmental. It's easier for people to open up to you if they don't feel they're being judged or criticized for any words they speak.
- Find ways to better connect with remote workers. Remote employees are at the highest risk to become disengaged. Make a solid effect to create an environment of inclusion for them.
There is no disputing tech has cemented its place in our society, there is no going back. However, investing in face-to-face communication shouldn't be discounted or dismissed. While technology has helped us accomplish a lot and has aided us in communication options, in the process, it's created new problems. Making an effort to have good conversations can negate some of the communication issues tech has created.
To establish, develop, and nurture good relationships, strong communication is a must. This means making traditional conversations a part of organizational culture. We believe some conversations are more effective than others. While electronic communications are convenient, they simply aren't equal to traditional forms of communication.
We're not saying digital communication doesn't have its place in modern society—it absolutely does. However, there is still significant value in having routine face-to-face conversations too. By training your managers to hold authentic conversations with their employees that motivate and energize, you'll quickly begin to see tangible results through better business performance.