“The great paradox of the 21st century is that, in this age of powerful technology, the biggest problems we face internationally are problems of the human soul.” – Ralph Peters
“Keeping in touch is as easy as the click of a Facebook like, a LinkedIn congrats, or an email forward. But the more ways we find to keep in touch, the greater the challenge to keep those interactions honest.” – Ximena Vengoechea
I’ve been thinking a lot these days about both the benefits and obstacles created by technology when it comes to building/maintaining relationships – both in our business and personal lives. On the one hand, technology has brought tremendous benefits. On the other, I wonder if our reliance on these tools has created a façade that prevents us from truly knowing each other. And from a leadership perspective, that can be a huge challenge.
For example, the invention of Facebook (and similar apps like Instagram) has given us the ability to reconnect with long lost friends, keep up with new developments through pictures and posts, and create conversations through our “Likes” and “Comments”. While I’m not a chronic Facebook user, I will take time on a Saturday or Sunday morning to surf through posts for hours catching up on the lives and events of my friends. And yes I admit I’ll load a few pictures from vacation or post a few personal updates now and then.
In business there are some fantastic technological developments that have helped us improve our communication and collaboration. Here in Manpower we now leverage the Google+ platform, and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE what it has done for building and sustaining our culture. And even the Google Hangouts platform – which still has its challenges – has been a godsend by allowing us to ‘see’ each other in meetings, if only virtually.
Yet there is a danger in the reliance such technology creates in all of us, and the way it structures the image of who and what we stand for. Not that there is anything wrong with being careful about your image, but it lacks the authenticity that makes the human character so interesting. And it’s left to the flaws of interpretation that a digital media creates. And that’s not to mention the danger in misinterpreting text or email words where meaning is perceived or interpreted completely different than the author intended.
Take for example my daughter. I’ve picked on her before in my leadership messages but only because I learn so much through her behaviors. In the context of this subject she represents a growing trend of reliance on digital media to manage and facilitate her relationships. Ask her to invite a friend over for the evening, or call someone to walk the mall with, and her ‘modus operandi’ is to text them. Then she has to sit and wait for them to respond. When they do get together it’s an interesting sight. I have literally seen them sit at the restaurant together and text each other RATHER THAN speak directly!
And then there is my wife – she is just the opposite. Most of her communication is either done in person or via phone. Yes, texting is OK when she has a quick question, but she also practices the lost art of ‘catch up on the phone’. And if she finds out your birthday, don’t expect her to simply email or post “Happy Birthday” on Facebook. Nope – that’s not her style. She has to call you directly. Literally. Her every day routine includes a round of 5-6 daily phone calls to wish family and friends a personal happy birthday. It’s gotten to the point that so many of our friends have said they look forward to their birthday because they know Pam will call them directly. Think she hasn’t built her ‘brand’ as a friend who cares about them?
The same can be true in business and leadership. Too often we rely on technology to manage and govern every aspect of our communications. We communicate with colleagues and customers solely through email rather than phone calls. We rely on unlimited posting contracts to create a dependency on job board usage, yet fail to find those hard to reach candidates that only come from cold calls and referrals. Or we suffer through an endless chain back and forth emails instead of a 5 minute call to clarify our needs or understandings.
Now I’m certainly not advocating the elimination of technology in helping to facilitate and manage communications. That would be foolish advice. There is SO MUCH benefit that technology has brought to all of us in this aspect. What I am suggesting is that we not lose sight of the value of direct, personal interaction every once in a while
Sometimes picking up the phone is a good thing! And so too is catching up over a good old fashion cup of coffee!