My family and I spent last week in Asheville, N.C., to savor the food, the culture, and the nature, along with some well-deserved relaxation and family time. In reality, all that wonder was forced to fit between emails, phone calls, texts, social media, and a web conference.
I thought technology was here to make us better, faster, and smarter. In reality, I am so connected that I’m disconnected. I’ve got my iPhone, my iPad, social media sites, my desk phone, note cards, and a carrier pigeon in the back room just in case. More technology than sent the first person to the moon. So much, in fact, that I often can’t connect fully with my family, my team members, or with my clients—not on a logistical/tactical level, but with deeper connections.
Technology—and communication—has to work for us rather than become an addiction. We have the power of choice to check that email. We have the power of choice to tell Facebook our latest adventure. That power of choice is liberating, but is also part of the dilemma. Some of us choose to lean on email while only reluctantly responding to texts, voicemails, or in person. Others have chosen text. Some of us actually still prefer to talk. This creates a tangled communication web. Technology has brought infinite information but has added layers of complexity to our communication.
I’m trying to refocus on what is effective, not just efficient. A sensitive conversation is more effectively handled face-to-face rather than through the more efficient text or email. If I am most efficient at texting but my client prefers email, then email is most effective. Certain social media sites are more effective for our business than others; we have a presence on many sites, but focus our time and money to go deep on the most effective one or two. Going deep in those is better than going shallow across them all.
Determining the most effective paths to communication takes thought. What does my co-worker respond more effectively to? When I first meet someone—a client, a prospective team member, a subcontractor, a supplier, etc.—we need to talk about how they and I communicate most effectively. That would include not just mode of communication, but also responsiveness during weekends, upcoming vacations, etc.
How about who should receive the communication? Do I really need to “Reply All,” or can I avoid spamming everyone with unnecessary email? If there is an issue on the project, does our client know where to go for answers? That could be a key point person or an online portal, but ideally it should be one place or person. Saying, “Call Jane for design questions, call Ralph for production questions, call Eddy for billing questions, and call “0” for the operator,” might be efficient for you, but it’s certainly not effective for the client.
Technology is working to turn communication into an addiction. It just doesn’t feel right to be disconnected for more than an hour—or to wait four hours to respond to a text, email, or voicemail. Communication technologies should be tools in our toolbox that we only use when we need them. The next time we visit Asheville, my emails, phone calls, texts, social media, and web conferences will have to wait. They will have to fit between the wonder of food, culture, nature, relaxation, and family.