It all started with the Harvard Business Review. Dan Pallotta posted “Just Call Someone Already,” and I just “had to make a comment.” A journalist, working on an article, saw the comment, found my e-mail address and, wisely, sent me an e-mail asking if we might have a conversation and when would be a good time. I say “wisely” because it was apparent from my comment that I don’t particularly appreciate phone calls. Here, in a bit more depth, is where I am on this thing.
First, technology always has and I’m confident always will, change how we interact with one another and our world. It changes how we work. How you use the communication tools we now have will not only determine how well you communicate, it will “date” you. If, for example, you don’t have a smart phone, that dates you. If you think that’s okay, you’d better be a retired curmudgeon who doesn’t have to communicate with anyone more than five years younger than you. If you have a smart phone and believe it’s for making phone calls, you’re a boomer and an out-of-date boomer at that. If you have a smart phone and spend time reading and sending text messages, e-mails and posting on social media, you’re either a Gen Y’er or an up to date Gen X or Boomer. Are you conscious of how to effectively communicate with those around you?
I believe that if there is an issue being discussed in written medium – printed memo, letter, e-mail, text message or social media post – and it’s going off track, then you need to send that one last written communication: “When’s a good time for us to have a conversation in person or on the phone?” I have a rule of thumb I try to use consistently; more than two or three written exchanges without a “meeting of the minds,” and it’s time to meet in person. If it’s an office environment, for goodness sake, get up and walk down to the person’s cube or office and iron things out in person. At least invite them to a Google hangout!
Misunderstanding the ways of communicating is now largely a generational thing. Many of my cohort (boomers) still have land lines, flip phones and have no clue what social media is. They think it’s a badge of courage to stay that way and dismiss any idea of learning something new. I’m fine with that as long as they are no longer in the business world. I can accommodate calling my father or my friend down the road if that’s how they want to be contacted. I might even take their call, should they call me.
In the past, we learned to get rid of unwanted US mail advertisements by sorting our mail over the waste basket and simply dropping the advertisements into the circular file. I still do that. We then moved to e-mail and for a while, things were really nice. Then the advertisers found out how to SPAM us and so we developed filters to, yep, you got it, file the advertisements, scams and sales pitches in the circular file (can I still call it that?)
And then the advertisers, scam artists and salespeople found that they could call us and, because we (Boomers) were trained that way, we would always pick up the phone. Most of us were too polite not to hang up as soon as we figured out it was an unwanted, unneeded call. So in the business world we developed “gatekeepers” to screen our calls.
And, in the name of efficiency, we developed the automated menu so when someone calls our company, we make them go through several options before they get — not a person, but rather a voice-mail to leave a message. So why call in the first place? On the personal and individual side, we now have the best means so far to screen calls. It’s the cell phone. If the person calling isn’t identified by your contact list in the phone or if the caller ID is blocked, don’t answer. It’s that simple. If it’s important, you’ll get a voice mail. Call or text back. How easy can it be? No fuss, no muss, no interruption and guess what, no advertisement, salesperson or scam to interrupt you. What a gift to efficiency and effectiveness. What a horror for the phone banks, robo-callers and marketers.
As a leader, ask yourself how you want your people to communicate. What are the rules? When do you stop emailing and have a conversation? Do you really need phones on the desk? Why not simply have a switch (call forwarding) that forwards calls to my cell? Many, maybe most, of the folks I know forward their business phone to their cell anyway. Why be tied to a desk? Why have more than one voicemail? You must lead the way. We have four generations working in many companies (a few have five), and at least three in most. Are you setting the communication culture or letting it fester on its own? And how does this trend affect how you communicate with your customers, clients and suppliers?