Technology is now an essential part of our lives. In the workplace, we cannot function effectively without it. That raises the question:
What impact does technology have on our communication skills in the workplace?
Does this sound familiar?
- You need to check your email at every opportunity.
- You feel lost without your phone, tablet, laptop.
- You're easily distracted.
- You find it difficult to focus on what another person is saying.
- You think you can continue working on your computer and still hear the key points of what someone is saying to you.
- You have a need to check your phone at every free moment – for example, in a lift, walking to a meeting or standing in a queue.
If so, it may be an indication that you have become dependent on your technology. A 2016 study estimates that we tap, swipe and click on our devices 2,617 times each day.
My recent airborne experiences
During the first quarter of the year I spent more time away from my home city of Sydney than I did there. As the years of travelling have passed by, I have noticed an interesting trend.
Through the advancement of technology, people are staying 'connected' more and more. That is, as soon as they board the plane, they connect to the airline's app and then they are ready to stay 'connected' throughout the flight. This means that passengers can not only access entertainment by connecting to the respective airline's wi-fi, they can also access emails and use that time to get work done.
Is that a good thing? How does that affect the brain? What follow on impact does that have on our communication?
There was a time when everyone turned off their phones, laptops and other technology devices and didn't look at them again until the plane landed. Not now.
Once we were in the air, many of the passengers were busily working away in preparation for the working day ahead. I am sure they were thinking that they were making good use of their time. But what if they didn't answer emails, review documents, prepare presentations, etc, etc? Now you may be saying that they would not be ready for the working day. That may be true… or does that have more to do with effective time management?
The impact of technology on communication
A study by Microsoft found that people now generally lose concentration after 8 seconds which means that the human average attention span is now lower than that of a goldfish (which is 9 seconds).
As our technology habits deny our brains important downtime, our ability for deep-thinking and maintained focus is reducing. What impact does the over-use of technology have on communicating with your team members? Are you able to give them your undivided attention? Or are you being called away by your technology?
Cal Newport, in his book, Deep Work, talks about the importance of giving yourself a strict period of time to spend working. This limits burnout, work creep and keeps you focused on your work. As an extension of that, there is a greater chance that you will be able to focus on communicating effectively with team members.
If you have ever tried to have a conversation with someone who is using their technology, you will know how difficult it is to determine if they have truly listened to you.
What you can do
It is a fact that we live in a society intertwined with technology. We are dependent upon it to live and work. However, like most things, too much technology is not good for you. In the case of workplace relationships, that is also true.
Here are four tips to increase the chances of improved communication:
Remove yourself from the temptation of using technology when in a conversation with a colleague. This could mean moving away from your desk, turning your phone over so you won't be distracted from it or if necessary, turn it off and put it in a drawer while you meet with your colleague.
Give yourself time out from technology. That could mean scheduling in time in your calendar when you won't be using technology. To avoid the temptation of checking emails, clearly state it in your email signature that you only check emails during certain times. Setting these boundaries for yourself and others will allow you to recharge from technology over-use and help to make your face-to-face communication more effective.
Be aware of your technology habits and slowly minimise their impact each week.
Turn your phone off during meetings. This way you will be able to focus on what is being said without being distracted by your technology. Only take a laptop/tablet to the meeting if necessary and only use it when required.
A useful metaphor…
Stephen Covey, in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, tells the story of a woodcutter whose saw gets continually blunt with time as he continues to cut trees. Covey writes how the woodcutter would benefit more by taking a break from cutting the trees to sharpen his saw.
This metaphor is a good reminder as to why breaks from technology are crucial in producing effective work and for developing strong workplace relationships.
Just like the woodcutter's saw, our minds need time to sharpen again so our ideas don't run dry and our work remains top level, including our ability to communicate effectively with others in the workplace.
The art of conversation
The art of conversation is suffering by our over-reliance on technology to communicate. Face-to-face communication is an essential skill in the workplace. It needs to be practised if people are to work together effectively as a team.
By making the effort to focus on clear face-to-face communication you just never know what you may find out about someone that may help you work better with them in a team environment.
People like to feel that someone has listened to them. In this technology age, being able to actively listen can be a challenge. An inability to remove yourself from technology makes it very difficult to fully listen and respond to another person.
If we are aware of our habits and consciously work toward minimising the negative effects that technology can have on face-to-face communication, then it can be used as a resource to effective communication, as it was originally intended.
How do you minimise the negative impact of technology on face-to-face communication?