The Dying Art of In-Person Communication
Dialogue, as opposed to monologue, is good for business.
Posted September 4, 2013
Honesty question of the day: How often do you send an email or text to someone to avoid in-person communication? Or how often do you call someone after hours or before hours so you can leave a message and avoid an actual conversation?
I know I did these things when I was in the business world. Hopefully not too often.
From a management perspective, one of the most important elements of the job is dealing with difficult situations that, truth be told, you’d prefer not to. These of course can involve anything: hostile employees, team dynamics, compensation complaints, off track projects… there’s a myriad of equally unpleasant possibilities. One thing I can say with certainty is that Communication Shirking (capitalization intended) is always an ineffective way to deal with them.
With the multitude of cool and ever-growing social media technologies at our disposal, there’s a real danger that good old-fashioned in-person talking to someone communication may become a lost art. From a management and general business perspective, that would be very bad news. Some of the clear business benefits of actual direct communication, as opposed to Communication Shirking:
It’s a dialogue, not a monologue – An authentic exchange of thoughts and ideas, not a verbal one-way street.
It offers the opportunity for nuanced messages – Far beyond the constraints of a three-minute voicemail or even the lengthiest of texts.
Problems can be openly discussed and resolved – This of course could involve conflict (and unpleasantness!), but it’s also the way meaningful collaborative solutions are reached.
Management by walking around – Having a mild case of (self-diagnosed) ADD, I literally found it difficult when I was in management to sit still in one place for a long time. This led to my frequently using the well-documented practice of management by walking around, a therapeutic way of relieving for me some of the tedium of bureaucracy. But as a consequence of this wandering I often found myself talking to my employees. I got to better know them. I got to hear about their families, their kids’ sports, their aging parents, their dentist appointments, their cats, their dogs, their hopes and frustrations on the job and off.
It was good, it was helpful. I may have wasted some of their time – no doubt I did – but it gave me added context to understand how well, or not, they were doing their jobs.
Management is seldom simple. I often say I made so many mistakes at it that I can no longer remember the first 200 or so.
But walking around and communicating with my employees, a lot, wasn’t one of them.
This article first appeared at Forbes.com.
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Victor is the author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World (Prentice Hall Press).
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