By Dr. Sabrina Brandon Ricks, SBR Workplace Leadership Services
When is the last time you had a face-to-face conversation with someone for more than five minutes? You may have just had to stop and ponder the answer to that question for a while. The practice of in-person verbal communication has become a lost art, especially with COVID-19 forcing organizations and schools to move to remote interactions. Many organizations are considering permanent telework options which had advantages and disadvantages. In this sense, technology has been a blessing and curse when it comes to new means of communication.
Yes, with the introduction of technological communication such as text, email, instant messages, social media, and more, one can communicate faster, without seeing someone face-to-face, across state lines and overseas, overnight, and on holidays. This convenience applies to the workplace and in personal spaces. Electronic communication is convenient, efficient, and sometimes effective.
Ineffective Electronic Communication
The problem is when electronic communication is ineffective. This happens when messages are misinterpreted, when the wrong individuals get the messages, when the intended recipient does not get the message, and when messages are received at bad times. You may have received a message from someone right after an argument with a spouse or following a doctor’s appointment where you received bad news. You may have misread a message deciphering a negative tone when the sender meant for the message to have a hint of sarcasm or of humor. You may have been questioned about lack of a response regarding a message you never received or a message that inadvertently went to a “junk” or “spam” box in your email. There are so many ways messages can be misconstrued electronically, and this can create confusion or even chaos in the workplace or in your personal life.
From another perspective, lack of verbal communication impacts your ability to effectively communicate in-person. The less you practice in-person communication, the more you lose the soft skill to effectively do so as well as to note key body language cues when speaking to another person. For example, eye contact can become more intimidating if you have not been practicing it on a daily basis with individuals, either in the workplace or in your home.
Unfamiliarity with Visual Cues
Additionally, you may not notice that someone looks detached or distracted while talking to you because you are no longer familiar with cues of discomfort or stress. You should be able to recognize that someone diverts their eyes as they talk to you, they twirl their hair, they bite their fingernails, they cross their arms, and they step away from you as you speak. These are all tell-tale signs that there is an issue that needs to be uncovered and resolved during this conversation.
Some individuals are not comfortable with confronting issues during an in-person conversation by asking “what’s wrong,” “did I say something that offended you?” or “is there something more you would like to discuss.”
Confrontation coaching, assertiveness coaching, and building interpersonal relationships are all coaching and training sessions provided by SBR Workplace Leadership Services that can improve your comfort level with interacting with others in-person. Initial consultations are free. It is never too late to improve communication and feel more comfortable and confident in interacting with others in all areas of life. It may even be time to take a break from the electronic devices and force yourself to get out there and talk to people. You may have a renewed sense of enjoyment during in-person interactions.