Less Personal Communication

Posted on April 29, 2019


What is less personal communication doing to your business? 

What do I mean by less personal communication? My definition is around the amount and proportion of time people spend in the following forms of communication with others: 

  1. Face to face communication 
  2. Direct phone communication 
  3. Digital communication ( email, social media, text ) 
  4. No communication 

I content that the lower numbers above represent the more personal forms of communication. Therefore, the more that communication is skewed to the lower numbers, the more personal the communication is and vice versa. 

So, is communication becoming more or less personal according to my definition? Consider the question in these parts: 

  1. Within your business? 
  2. Between your business and those outside of your business ( customers/clients, suppliers, the community in general, others)? 
  3. Within the community at large? 

I would strongly suggest that communication has moved significantly to the less personal forms on all three fronts above and I believe it is sufficient to simply go by observation, experience and what is being reported to validate this contention. So, if you accept this, what are the impacts on your business? 

  1. There is a reduced need for sales people ( and this has been happening for years now). The growth of online purchases/sales has had a highly significant effect on the need for business to have sales people, on the ground, in the flesh and doing what they used to do. Sure they still exist but in reduced numbers, in favour of online capability. A problem for smaller, privately owned businesses, can be a lack of expertise in making this transition or even having awareness about what is happening. A problem for traditional sales people is for them to effectively transition themselves into future careers, still in the sales arena or other. This does not suggest the sales person is dead(yet) but it does point to reduced numbers and changed methods. 
  2. Digital communication between staff (c.f face to face) has grown significantly, especially due to the ease of email. This propensity to go talk with someone or even phone them ( in larger businesses) has dropped right off and this is causing frequent and real problems in communication... With respect to meaning, intent, timing and lower interpersonal skills for when they are required elsewhere. Everywhere I go I hear people saying ' why didn't you just come and talk with me rather than email?'. Digital communication is incredibly efficient but not always effective. It can also be used when there is any reluctance to front another person... It's easier to pen an email, so issues of potential disagreement, even conflict, can either be poorly dealt with, not dealt with at all or made worse. It's not old fashioned to suggest that selecting the medium for communication should be a choice and sometimes that choice should be face to face or by phone, not digital. 
  3. Some people in the workplace are choosing to spend their own time more so on their own digital devices. (especially smartphones) rather than with work colleagues ( even when in their company ). That's not always the case but often enough for this to now be an issue. Is that true more so for younger people than older? Probably so. There is no comment from me that is wrong but is to suggest that spending reduced time engaged with colleagues makes it more difficult to know them and to connect with them. That then can have impacts on how well people work together.. when their knowledge of each other is more so through work practices as distinct from knowing more about them as people (should the individuals be willing for that to happen, of course). Downtime being spent on devices rather than in communication with each other can't be all that good for teamwork or leadership. 
  4. Customer loyalty is, according to many surveys, a less important factor in purchasing decisions than it has ever been. Given that interactions with businesses are more frequently digital plus the growing prevalence of online purchasing, a customer's emotional connection to any one seller, a brand or even a product has dropped. Attempts are being made by various businesses to revive or maintain that loyalty and there may be merit in that. I see more merit though in looking more closely at the whole customer experience itself when a purchase is made, from beginning to end. The better the experience, the more likely it will be repeated and recommendations will be made to others. So I lean more to concentrating on the overall customer experience and let customer loyalty be the result of that rather than focusing on customer loyalty per se. Concentration on loyalty can mislead the changes to be made. 
  5. Is there higher or lower workplace enjoyment due to less personal communication? This will vary between individuals, of course. It probably even varies between the younger and older age groups. For me, the most sensible approach is to 'allow' all forms of communication within the business but to educate people, with their input, about the likely impacts of each form. Get them to buy in to the best ways forward, almost like an agreed approach to how communication within can best be approached, considering all aspects. Communication edicts are unlikely to be effective.. people support what they help create. 
  6. It is more difficult for people to stay on task given the proportion of time on digital communication(email, multiple screens with a host of open windows to attract our attention, SMS, pop ups etc) It has now been categorically shown that 'multitasking' is not only a fallacy but actually drops effectiveness and efficiency of what we do. So we have a problem. It requires a designed and disciplined approach to stay on ( high priority ) tasks for people to perform them well. The proliferation of digital distractors is very high though so some workplace rules are best agreed on and put in place to overcome them. 
  7. An unusual one.. People are spending more time sitting down.. working on laptops, email, etc. We are being told by physiologists and medico's that this is not good for us.. Physically and mentally (given we are often staring at screens). Variable height desks are coming into play but surely there is more we can do that just adjust the height of the thing that holds our laptop up. More innovative businesses are holding some walks to have discussions, etc. Good approaches! 
  8. I've touched on this earlier... the sway to digital communication is having a documented impact on our brains, according to medical observation and research. To the extent that digital communication is causing us to jump from on task or communication to another, rapidly and often, it is a strain on our brains and is causing ineffective processing. Awareness of this is part of its prevention. 
  9. In my observation, more discussion in decision making is occurring electronically than it is by phone or face to face. This can remove emotion from the discussion and that is both good (by removing negative emotion) and bad (by removing positive emotion). It also disallows (spontaneous) interaction to help guide thinking and similarly it limits group thought. Businesses need to be highly aware of how much their decisions are being impacted by electronic communication, to ensure the mix is right. 

There are definitely other impacts that less personal communication is having on your business. Right throughout this article I've implied that businesses should be aware of the continually changing impacts, identify those that are positive and those that aren't, and act accordingly. It's just another aspect of running a successful business in today's digitally oriented world. It is not going to go back to what it used to be so effective management of it is required, from everyone involved.

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Article from: Alan Rodway, Executive Coach at High Performance 

Alan is one of Australia’s leading business and high performance coaches. Having run his own coaching business since 1999, he is a renowned public speaker on success in business and high performance, with some of his larger clients including Westpac, Deloitte's, Toll and more. 

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