In this digital age that we’re now living in, have we lost the art of verbal communication? When was the last time you had the full attention of the person you were talking to without being interrupted by chirping text alerts, or the tapping of outgoing messages?
Without a doubt, technology is harming our basic ability to listen. We’re easily distracted, burying our heads in laptops and iPads, mobiles and on social media sites. There was a discussion running recently on whether dinner party hosts should be offended if a guest chatted on the phone during the meal. It’s concerning that we may even consider it to be acceptable…but it happens. I’m talking about social chat, not the urgent call that may come from the babysitter or from a neighbour warning that the house is on fire! Presumably we believe that talking into a tiny hand-held device is discreet enough to be acceptable. Would we feel as comfortable if we were holding a mobile phone the size of a brick with an aerial long enough to poke our dinner companion in the eye?
In business, we may well be losing the emotional connection, invaluable in cementing a long term working relationship. We email when we could easily pick up a telephone and avoid personal meetings by communicating via Skype and MSN, using the excuse that we’re saving valuable time. We panic when the internet goes down or our mobile service fails to provide us with a strong signal. A recent university study in Tel Aviv determined that excessive use of the internet and associated applications has similarities with other obsessive behaviour, including sex addiction, compulsive gambling or kleptomania.
If we allow it to, technology can easily get in the way of our relationships and leave both friends and business associates believing that we have little interest in them. Ikea, who are no doubt familiar with couples showing a lack of communication when walking around their stores together, carried out a recent study on technetronics in the bedroom, concluding that a high percentage of couples continue to use their laptops after they get into bed. Amazingly Facebook now figures high in the reasons given for divorce with one in five citing the social media site for the major cause of the marriage breakdown. I know of one couple who communicate by computer during the evening sitting in different rooms, while the teenage son sends orders by text for snacks to be delivered upstairs. Will the next generation lose the ability and the inclination to engage in personal conversation, preferring to interact remotely through the internet?
We may or may not be forgiven anti-social behaviour within our family, but when it comes to communicating in business we’re led to believe that 55% is down to body language, 38% in the tone of voice and only 7% in the words we use. If this is the case, the less we meet face to face with our clients, the weaker the message we’re hoping to deliver will be. We need to find the time to talk in person and to avoid outside interruptions while we do so. In the words of the 18th Century theologian Joseph Priestly, “The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate”. Surely the least we can give someone is the gift of our attention. Let’s talk.