I found the recent NY Times Op-Ed piece entitled “Stop Googling. Let’s talk.” very interesting for a couple of reasons. It was a good examination of what having our devices tethered to us 24/7 has done to us and how it’s changing the behavior of the “digital natives” that have grown-up with them.
The first finding I found most interesting is that a result of texting and emailing vs. actual in-person or phone conversations is creating a lack of empathy on the part of the user. When all communication, both good and bad, can be done without seeing or feeling the person’s reaction to it, the sender doesn’t have to deal with the consequences of their communication style. As a result, the study found that there was an inability to feel or understand how another might be feeling. They also found that teenagers were behaving more like 8-year-olds on a social empathy level and that in many ways they were lacking the ability to empathize or understand the effects of their behaviors.
Obviously, what’s missing is the impact words alone can have on someone when the corresponding social cues of tonality and facial and body movements are not visible. A set of words or a single word can be read or interpreted so many different ways, as can an emoji for that matter. The receiver receives it through their own filters, irrespective of the sender’s intent. And that is the message delivered. So now conversations are had in one’s own mind, and more often than not, they’re warped.
Conversations Are Powerful
What the researchers found is that people are longing for conversation. The sound of a voice, the reaction to something said in person or on the phone. We were meant to hear and see others. We were meant to converse. Interestingly, they also found that actual conversations lead to higher productivity, not less, as is commonly believed. People need to feel connected to one another in the workforce. Why do you think the “water cooler” conversations are some of the most important in some workplaces?
So what’s a leader or manager to do with these digital natives who can type a mile a minute and text without looking at the keyboard? Insist that it’s time to put the phone down and away for long periods of time. Being connected 24/7 never lets you quietly think. It’s like a stimulus crutch and it prevents deeper thinking and reflection. Some workplaces are offering cell-free zones where phones are not allowed in order to encourage conversation. Others are designating times that cell phones must be off.
My advice is to just start having more conversations in-person or via phone. Don’t try to do it via email or text. Follow up with email if you are documenting something but let conversations do the heavy lifting. People need other people to feel whole and use all their senses to get that connection by taking cues from tonality, words, and facial expressions and body movements. People are also hardwired for belonging and belonging comes through a sense of connection. The more your employees feel that they belong to your company tribe the better. I believe the results of reducing dependence on digital devices for communication will be more productive and more rewarding for your entire organization.