By Kionia D. Ryant
Since 1950 when the television remote was invented the advancement of technology has created a world where communication can be easily accessible. The first communication satellite was successfully placed in space in 1962 and from there the advances take us to the development of the internet. Personal computers arrived in 1977 and laptops in 1982, both of which help a technological explosion. Fast forward to the 2000’s where conducting business is a simple transaction on your cellular device. Where once there were limited means to build connections with those outside of your immediate circle, today we are all able to build friendships and share experiences at the touch of a phone screen. The convenience of technology is undeniable.
Technological Impact on Communication
So, what does it mean to have technology impact communication in the workplace? The ability to send instructions (or criticism) swiftly to your staff through email is one thing; but now you can send a quick text and on the go you have solved the problems of your day to day business. You may be thinking ‘What’s the big deal?’ The big deal is this: Leadership requires some personable traits like trust, influence, character, thinking, and feeling. None of these personable traits can be found in technology; each are all found through human experience. What is more valuable to an effective leader than to cultivate a positive human experience.
Let’s dissect this in a way that helps explain the importance of human contact in leadership. Have you heard of the “Iceberg Leadership”? If you have not, one article that can introduce the idea is ‘Leadership and the Iceberg’, by Corrinne Gregory (2011). In this article, Gregory quotes Dr. Elmore, “The iceberg represents your leadership. 10% above the water is your skill. The 90% below the water is your character. It’s what’s below the surface that sinks the ship” (Elmore, 2004). Like the iceberg, there are layers of thoughts and feelings that we all operate from. A leader recognizes the importance of understanding this concept. When communicating with others in person your ability to connect improves. You can create stronger connections where trust is built, and influence is improved. Often in the workplace, change occurs and influence is needed to aid in the buy in for the change. Yes, you can conveniently send an email, but what if you had a face to face conversation with your team? What if you allowed them to understand that the change is required but also necessary and provided them with a way to provide feedback to you immediately, face to face? You express to your team that you were also unsure about this change, but you trust in their ability to make the change successful. Your team will feel your confidence in them and their commitment and dedication to you will be evident by their performance. Your team may not trust the change, but they trust you. The ‘below the water’ demonstration of your character can’t be duplicated through technology.
The statements above are not an implication that communication through technological means is bad. Many may argue that using technology is useful in many instances. Emails are a vital and useful tool in communicating messages quickly and allows leaders to maintain a record of instruction, deadlines, and projects. As technology has advanced, cellphones allow emails and now text messages to travel with us and keep us involved. Technology has allowed some workplaces to evolve into hybrid teams and the convenience or appeal of working from home can be a benefit for organizations. Tablets, laptops, and cell phones allow us to do more, faster. It is important that we can utilize technology to enhance our efficiency, productivity, and progression as an advancing society. It is equally important, that we ensure that we don’t lose human connection in the process. The biggest miscommunication occurs through technology such as a text message or email where the recipient interprets meaning based on the way that he/ or she is feeling in that moment. The intent will be overlooked if the words are in all caps or the inflection is interpreted incorrectly by the reader.
Face to face communication provides leaders with several advantages. Studies have shown that the number one reason employees leave their jobs is their manager/leadership. One study, ‘Building a Better Boss’ by Dori Meinert, (2019) says that 53% of those that leave because of their boss do so because their boss was disrespectful to those in lesser positions and 34% say that their boss doesn’t listen when the employee voices their opinion. Any organization that is concerned with employee retention, should be aware of how important it is to be invested in its human capital. By having conversations face to face, the managers can check-in with employees and positively impact the employee experience. Managers can observe body language to determine if more information is needed. Employees can also give feedback or ask questions for clarification and receive immediate attention. It’s challenging to find the time to create face to face communication opportunities, yet it can be done.
In order to keep up with the pace of the workplace, leaders would want to know how to make time to connect with their staff. With a remote workforce increasing, and the expansion of what technology can allow a company to do, it may seem impossible to have opportunities to talk with your teams. There are some ways to make this happen. First keep the team meetings. Use the team meeting as a nonnegotiable time that you are building with your team. Building strategy, connection, processes and presence as their guiding influence. If these meetings are scheduled with regularity, you also increase your team’s ability to depend on the time they will have with you. After team meeting plan to be present, just in case someone from your team wants to have a few minutes of your time to discuss something more personal. Then, create expectations for what actions or events require a conversation with leadership, for example calling out for a shift or being late. Creating communication expectations prevents common miscommunication and establishes communication non-negotiables or agreements. By practicing these guidelines, a leader lays foundation for effective communication and creates space for face to face communication on important issues. Lastly, ensure that you build relationships that will help you understand when it’s better to speak face to face with someone. If you are familiar with your teams/co-workers, you will understand how best to communicate once you have established solid foundations in these work relationships. When you take the time to value face-to-face communication, you will improve the effectiveness of your communication through technological means. When the time comes that you do need to send an email or text message to someone, the likelihood that your intent is misinterpreted is reduced significantly. Reduction of miscommunication will significantly improve your teams’ results.
Kionia D. Ryant has worked as the Director of Human Resources with United Cerebral Palsy of South Carolina for the last five and a half years. Throughout her 15 year career, she has worked in a leadership capacity and enjoys the art of helping others uncover the value they add to any team. She has an MBA with a focus in Human Resources and is currently pursuing her PsyD. Kionia has aspirations to further her career by becoming licensed in Counseling and Therapy.