Friday Rant: Technology and Personal Communication — Don't Let the Tail Wag the Dog

Okay, you're probably not in this week's WSJ listing of the 25 highest paid CEOs whose median compensation range is in the $500 millions. But based on a 60-80 hour work week -- all in -- you don't need to earn $2,500/minute for you and your team's time and effectiveness to represent significant spend. One of the most direct and simple ways to improve ROI from human capital is to pull out all the stops to maintain and improve the effectiveness with which we all communicate with each other. This is not an exposé of management styles or seminars. It's a critique of ubiquitous daily business practices that impede effective communications -- things that don't work well.

I've been accused of not being very tech savvy e.g., I don't text (not willing to pay the extra monthly fee). This is not prescriptive. I just find that it's frequently a rude distraction from face to face conversation and thinking time that is often conducted when one wouldn't dream of taking a call in the same circumstances. And if you're with a client, it's at least as offensive, and vice versa. Multi-tasking isn't about doing a number of things at once. It's the ability to focus on the task at hand and move on to the next once you've accomplished the benchmark objective, and then return to it as needed when time permits. In observing others, it also seems that people text when they don't wish to have a dialogue. This is okay if you're giving orders, but it typically takes less time to have a quick chat than punching out cryptic messages on those tiny keys.

This brings up the matter of scheduling. Early in the last quarter of the 20th century, during and after my Wharton days (pre cell phones, but we didn't walk five miles to class in the snow), appointments were made -- frequently well in advance -- and kept, on time, without calendar alerts and incessant phone calls to confirm. And they weren't postponed except in the case of a true emergency. This is a matter of respecting others' time as much as your own. We're all tempted to over-book these days. That's fine if it's agreed to in advance. But when we usurp others' time and attention to rearrange meetings and calls via texting and last minute e-mails or phone calls, the inescapable impression is that your time is more valuable than those with whom you were scheduled -- not the best way to foster relationships.

A note on communication dynamics: One of my favorite social philosophers is Martin Buber, who wrote I and Thou (the English translation). Because good communication can't be quantified, Buber's characterization of relationships is important. I'm oversimplifying his thesis, but here goes: We have I/It and I/Thou interactions. Imagine two dialogue bubbles in a print cartoon. In most conversation, they barely overlap. But as they move toward eclipse, communication becomes perfected along with the relationship. This is all about listening. When we focus and eschew distractions -- including the relentless promotion of our own agenda -- we can actually get to know and more fully comprehend those with whom we dialogue and vice versa. Doing so is prerequisite to doing business efficiently and profitably. And the very best way to accomplish this feat is to have face to face meetings where we not only hear, we can also observe facial expressions, body language and energy to accomplish mutual goals. The time and cost of travel can seriously pay off -- too bad we can't perform a definitive cost/benefit analysis on it.

And one last gripe: voice-mail is a pain in the butt. We read short messages with greater dispatch than we can listen to them. If the message is not urgent and you wish to provide more detail about why you called, send a short e-mail or text saying "tried to reach you this AM or PM...please call me at your earliest convenience" -- it's polite, concise and fosters preparation if needed. Otherwise, leave it as a missed call -- you'll probably get a call back anyway. .

What are your beefs with how the mis- and over-use of communication technology fosters inefficiency?

BTW, if you want to discuss engagement with Spend Matters; call me anytime -- and feel free to leave a message or send e-mail. Don't count on a returned text message, though!

William Busch

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