Is electronic communication reducing quality employee interaction?

communication

We all know pervasive texting among young people has the potential to negatively impact their ability to communicate effectively as adults, right? Kids growing up using emojis, acronyms, short-hand, and plain old poor spelling to converse with their peers will certainly challenge their skills as they “mature”.  What happened to face to face interactions? Or even the basic phone call? After all, you are texting on a cell PHONE!

Sadly, traditional verbal skills are currently under assault thanks to advancements in technology. The more we don’t need to talk directly to each other, the less we will. Why not? Texting gets your point across faster — even with expressions of emotion (via those emojis and “lol”).

How about instant messaging (more used at work and less by the kids)? IM has all but replaced the ubiquitous phone call in many offices. And email? All the better to document in writing the details and nuances of an important conversation. That is certainly true, but rather than summarizing the contents of a call or meeting in a follow-up email, email is it — the gospel.

Several years ago I worked in an office cubical (known then as the bullpen). Better than a totally open office environment, but less private than physical offices with real doors. Our business colleagues were “just next door” in adjacent cubicles. Literally 3 feet away from our neighbors.  Almost eerily, when one worker needed to communicate to another worker, who was literally right behind their 6 ft. adjoining wall, email or IM was the preferred communication choice.  In that office, you could whisper to your colleague and communicate effectively, but that rarely happened. IM was used for the fast question or remark, while email handled the deeper “conversation”. There actually was an unwritten but universally understood protocol as to which method was appropriate. Telephone? Used to order lunch.

Honestly it felt very strange at times, but was frankly effective. There was this unstated belief that even minor employee to employee interactions should be documented, and for several good reasons. In this competitive office, where a bell curve was used to evaluate employee performance, every employee was highly productive. But the employee who could concretely differentiate themselves (for instance via documented involvement in key business wins) just might be placed at the top of the curve. All of the other good soldiers that may have equally supported the same business but cannot clearly prove their actions were left treading water to stay off the bottom. Imagine your co-worker asking for advice in a verbal conversation, then taking credit for your great idea? It happened all the time.

At least we “spoke” in proper English. Misspelling was shunned. Acronyms were acceptable as long as they were standard corporate versions. Emojis were limited to smiley faces (or the winking eye if you knew the right keystrokes). Put today’s teenager in tomorrow’s business office and the picture starts to look bleak. We were, and still are, tied to electronic communication methods, but at least our communications substantially mirror the quality verbal skills our teachers drilled into us back in school.

Will that be true of our future business professionals? Has texting killed the art of communication? Our school systems must recognize the serious lack of essential verbal and written communication skills that many children possess today and immediately endeavor to correct these deficiencies through a more rigid focus on English Language Arts (ELA). Equally, if not more importantly than science and math skills, ELA skills can directly make or break the success of future workers.

The quality of one’s verbal interactions with others provides an immediate impression of that person, and often becomes either a doorway to success or an impenetrable barrier that is hard to break. Both parents and teachers alike must counteract the negative aspects of kids’ texting habits with proper training and guidance. Texting and other forms of electronic communication are here to stay, so let’s make the best of these tools.