To preface: no, this is not dating advice.
One thing I’ve noticed during my time as an engineer is an over-reliance on technology to accomplish all communication ends. By this, I mean that an engineer will sit at their desk and exchange a series of 20+ emails and instant messages to discuss a topic that could have been resolved with a two-minute face-to-face conversation.
Let me begin the discussion by saying that I am a text message fiend (as in, I send over 1000 a month). I’m also a mild Facebook addict along with Twitter, email and various other social networking sites. What can I say, I enjoy talking to a lot of people in a variety of ways. There is nothing wrong with having some level of dependence on networking and communication tools; in fact, I wholeheartedly encourage people to reach out and communicate by any means at your disposal. The unfortunate side-effect of our technology-driven society is that somehow, the longest-lasting time-honored and effective tool we have, has been largely forgotten: face-to-face communication. Now, phone conversations also suffice for this to a large extent, but there is something about looking in someone’s eyes and watching how they elaborate on their topics with body language as well as voice inflection that merits a look at the physical proximity of communicating with others.
I recently moved across the country, from Reno, Nevada to Gainesville, Florida. The move was not lightly taken, but was a huge next step in the life of my family. This left us with nearly all of our good friends and direct family 3000 miles away. We call our friends and family as often as we can, but to be honest, speaking with my mother and father is not the same on the phone as it was when we would go out to lunch and enjoy each other’s company for an hour. By no means am I saying that you should take a different coworker out to lunch every day, but rather making the point that the phone simply is NOT the same as looking at someone while they talk to you. I have also had many experiences where those 20+ emails went back and forth with no one really understanding what the other was trying to say, only for me to go physically stand in front of them and figure out that, in fact, we’re talking about the exact same problem and have more-or-less the same solution (obviously with some minor tweaks). The language of an email wasn’t the right mechanism to see the nuances of the conversation, so while I thought my idea was being attacked, the other person was using different terms for their standpoint and feeling like I wasn’t listening.
A former coworker of mine was constantly reminded that his language and tone of his email was unacceptable. Rather than adjusting his emails’ “tone”, he decided that it’d be easier to append a disclaimer to the end of his emails with rectification steps should his tone be considered inappropriate. Needless to say, eventually this disclaimer disappeared because the problem was never solved by simply having it there in the email. When you’d speak to him in person, you could see why people would see his tone as condescending and rude. He freely spoke his mind and had some sarcasm throughout the conversations with him, however, none of it really was rude. Back to the point at hand, the tone in his emails was the same, but without the lighthearted amusement that was included in his actual conversation, the essence of his discussions was lost and thought nasty.
Have you had an experience where a conversation through non-face-to-face means turned bad? Or perhaps, clarified matters in a way that speaking directly to them couldn’t do? I’m interested to hear!