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Monday, 20 September 2010

Let's Just Stop Communicating and Start Talking!

Think about it – When was the last time you really talked to someone – no don’t worry this is not your next therapy session! But seriously, how often do you actually just pick up the phone or walk over to someone to ask them to help with the completion of a task or to provide you with a document or even dare I ask to catch up for a drink? Did you know that today you are 10 times more likely to send an email than actually pick up the phone? Or even more interesting, 20 times more likely to send an SMS or Instant message that talk on the phone or approach someone directly? I imagine many of you are reading this thinking … So what … it’s the tools we have to work with today – right? Well before I answer that question, let me as you another – how often have you been irritated with someone not replying to your message or for that matter being hounded by people demanding your response to that utmost critical question on a project status?

Now that I have you thinking about the multiple ways of “easy” communication we have along with the continued frustrations we all feel (well ok maybe you are one of the lucky ones!) in managing these multiple facets of communication that now exist in our lives, therefore have these communication tools really made it easier for you to communicate with others?

Communication tools although originally created to improve our interaction across the globe have unknowingly to many of us become the single frustration of our working lives. Consider for a moment the SMS – Short Message Service – the very title outlines what this is for, but I commonly know of people who can send a 1000 character message to a friend or colleague and be exasperated that the message didn’t arrive or was not ready from start to finish, People .., it’s an SMS not a ILMS - Infinitely Long Message Service! If you need more than 160 characters send an email, which brings us nicely to the most hidden process in an organization … Office Tai Chi. You may not know it but there is a hidden process in every organization that gives you the power to allocate or forward an action to anyone in your contact directory ideally leaving you completely protected from responsibility, no it’s not SAP, or Sales Force or even the infamous homemade process flow, it is in fact your very own email account!

We live under this wonderful illusion of belief that once we have sent someone an email it is no longer our responsibility – think about it, how often have you told someone “Oh yes I sent him/her an email, but they haven’t responded, clearly they are at fault, I will send another email to make sure they complete the task”. Perhaps even better someone is chasing you for emails that you have already forwarded onto someone else as you are not responsible yet they keep hassling you, ah right you forgot to copy the other person on the email, once you do resend the message to the intended recipient “copying” the original requester, you have finally achieved the highest level of Office Tai Chi, absolved yourself from all responsibility – even if the person you forwarded the message to is not even responsible! :)

It’s okay though we can fix things now with the help of a wonderful tool called Instant Messaging (IM), why do they call it instant because we can actually see when a person is online and demand that they respond to us immediately! Right? That’s how it works isn’t it? Red status means in a meeting but I would rather talk to you via IM, Amber means I am away from my desk but please send me a message so as I can get back to my desk and Green simply means I am urgently awaiting you to send me a message I can respond to? Absolutely … that’s why I usually have up to 8 IM sessions active so as I can realize my dream of being your next virtual help desk! Sound Familiar? Or my personal favourite, it isn’t enough for us to have a 1:1 chat let’s invite everyone else we know – I was stunned to see one colleague having a 12 person chat on IM! Everyone has an opinion but you have the last word and don’t worry we record all of our IM sessions now so we have proof you were there!

Ok, so I have hopefully opened your eyes to how we are (mis)using these wonderful communication tools that the market has provided us with to make our lives easier and the people around us more accessible, but have they? I would challenge that the Communications tools of today have become so warped from their original purpose they are actually distracting us from our daily lives rather than empowering us. But how did this happen and who is to blame? Well simply put all of us – yes I know you expected me to say that, what I mean though is us as individuals, managers, organizations and the technologists who introduce them in the first place.

The purpose of this article was to talk about regaining control of the communication tools around us, and to get you thinking about how you use communication tools moving forward. Many of us have been introduced to these Communication tools by the companies we work for, in doing so we were not made aware as to how these tools should be used, or not used as the case maybe. For example – Email should be used to send important files, share minutes of meetings, highlight project plans, receiving process notifications (real processes not emails!  ) or inform staff of important updates. Therefore email should not be about blanket emailing 30 people if they know where the stapler went to, or asking someone’s opinion of the latest basketball or as is my case asking what people thought of the latest F1 race – yes sorry! IM is a very powerful tool, how about using it to find people who can help you when they are available. IM can tell us if someone is available, or if they are not which of their colleagues who may have a similar skill could help us out, and when set up IM in the right way even enable us to click on their name and be told the best way to reach that person at any time of day be it Email, Mobile, IM or simply not reachable as on Holiday. Neat right?

So what can we do? Two things, first of all challenge your organization to drive a policy as how best communication tools can be leveraged to strengthen how we communicate not detract from it. Secondly think to yourself then next time you are sending an SMS, Email or IM is this really the best way to communicate, would I be better off getting out from behind my desk and asking the person directly, or if you can’t see them, Call them!

Therefore I leave with the question I started with … When was the last time YOU really talked to someone?

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