We Don’t Talk Anymore

Mark Fogel Communication, Email, Mark Fogel

Folks don’t talk anymore at work. It is just too easy to text or type email bombs to colleagues all day long. Some folks think this is more efficient or effective. I don’t.

Even external client interactions are shying away from personal communication, hiding behind automated systems and online chat.

Recently I had a bad experience with McGraw-Hill publishing that left me infuriated. I needed a problem solved with the content provider for my part-time teaching job. After 15 emails over a 30-day period, I finally had customer service talk to me and attempt to solve my issue. They turned it over to the district manager, who called me and resolved the problem in about 90 seconds.  It made me think about the impersonal world we live in and how having a conversation rather than an email exchange can bring clarity to situations.

I also believe email has killed personal communication skills and, as a result, relationships at work too.

I hate email, as most of my former staff members know. When I must indulge, I believe in Twitter-length email, short and sweet. Here are my typical responses to most emails: ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘I will get back to you’, or an answer that attempts to stay under 140 characters. My last corporate gig was the bastion of bad email etiquette. A minimum of 200 emails a day, an expectation of immediate response (immediate gratification) and a CEO who would send emails at 11pm or 5am in the morning to boot. To add insult to injury, my work environment was open and yet folks preferred to interact electronically. It felt like I was at a teenage party where 30 middle schoolers text each other rather than talk from 15 feet away.

I also hated that some folks got caught up in my spelling errors or my context instead of focusing on the issues at hand. Ask yourself, when was the last time someone corrected you mid sentence to tell you that your pronunciation of a word was wrong ?

As an HR practitioner and business leader it infuriated me that folks didn’t talk throughout the day. I spent at least 30 minutes twice a day having conversations around our office space with folks in every functional area. Many were startled when I would just pop in and ask how it is going or what is new in their world or life. To many it may have sounded intrusive, to others maybe I didn’t have enough to do, and yet to some it was a welcome respite from the maddening focus of interacting with their PC all day long.

When I worked in Manufacturing, I would go out to visit plants and distribution centers around the globe, sometimes forsaking traditional meetings to spend time on the shop floor talking to employees. People remember when you engage them. I developed a nickname as the “walk around exec” because I liked to walk around all the time and talk to folks informally on their turf. To me, as well as many of you, that’s putting the “Human” back in Human Resources.

Artificial Intelligence integrated in business may be the wave of the future, however we can’t forget the importance of direct communication. In some ways, HR folks are at the heart of this issue. Let’s take the bombardment of employees with benefit updates, weekly mailers, procedure updates, and the miscellaneous stream of mass communication.

I know most of it is important (at least to the HR folks) and of course they need to cover their butts on open enrollment deadlines or compensation deadlines. If you hold town hall meetings where you can talk through questions and concerns, you just might get a little more respect when you do need to send the email.

So, what should you do? The answer is obvious, give those thumbs a rest, buy some new kicks and add some steps to your daily activity. Get off your butt and visit people. Have a conversation, build relationships…the old-fashioned way.

Some organizations have gone as far as creating times of the day or night where there is no emailing. Others have a ‘hide your phone’ arrangement while in meetings. A few even prohibit email on weekends and holidays.

Like anything in life, I vote for moderation over cold turkey. Tell folks if it’s an emergency to call or visit. If you’re CC’d stay out of the conversation, just stay informed.

Also, use phone calls and, more importantly, face to face to build relationships.

Finally, if you are in an open environment then talk instead of text. It drove me nuts to see headphones and thumbs moving faster than a dancer’s feet on a palm sized keyboard all day long.

It’s never too late to have a conversation and start a new relationship.