Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Communications – more is less

Are communications getting better or worse? There's no doubt that technically communications have improved significantly over the last years. I can remember the time when we had to book a telephone call to Paris to tell our friends that their son, who was spending some time with us to improve his English, had arrived safely. Today, I received an e-mail from a friend who was “adrift in the Andaman Sea, west of Malaysia” but my PC noted that he was logged on and I could chat to him immediately. No doubt, I could have spoken to him via his mobile or Skype.

But have these improvements in the underlying technology actually improved information flow?

Why is this? Is it information overload? Are we confused by the various ways of recording information? Most people still rely on the calendar on the kitchen wall – which isn't integrated with the internet yet  fortunately. So we still have to remember to write the appointment down in the kitchen – not very easy when the invitation is received on the train. Are e-mails, once very significant, now so trivial or so common, now not treated seriously? Are they too impersonal? A year or two ago the Young Enterprise students I worked with seemed to communicate through Facebook but I hear that they have moved on – I haven't discovered where to – and left Facebook for their parents. Incidentally I have one Facebook friend who regularly has entries on her Facebook about her daughter “Xxx is the bestest daughter i could wish for i really do love her she is amazing! She blows me away!” We all suspect she leaves her PC logged on!

Maybe the youngsters have something to teach us. I remember being with a Young Enterprise group a few years ago with a potential new adviser who was used to working with adults but not teenagers. The YE company was trying to decide about Christmas cards: which of three designs should they chose to sell, should they do one only or two or all three. I said to the new adviser that the group would discuss this for ten minutes or so and would then come to a decision; they would all be committed to the decision and it would be clear to all what the decision was – but we would have no idea of how they came to the decision. And sure enough, the decision was arrived at, the were all fairly happy with the decision – or at least would go along with it – but how it all worked was a mystery.

More importantly, what can be done about this? At a practical level, I'm seeing people missing their slots on rotas – not a major concern but a worry but a symptom of the problem. Using more personal communications seems to help – although it appears to be more time-consuming. A face-to-face meeting is much more efficient than a phone call which itself is better than an e-mail, text or voicemail message. Research suggests that in a face-to-face interaction the majority of the communication is non-verbal. I hear this research is misquoted, nevertheless body language adds much to the interaction. When I was managing an international team, we worked very hard on ensuring that we could communicate effectively on the telephone, and in another situation, the introduction of videoconferencing was a significant improvement over the telephone. And although these calls were across the world, talking to people in Little Kingshill, South Heath and Ballinger is actually no different.

So – cut down on e-mails, phone more and meet in the pub often?


So far for the Cream Teas:

“Phew Rog.   Will Mrs Green and Mrs Harris ever bring us cake and tea...?”

“Don't worry, they're far too busy to notice us”

“If only the others could multi task”

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