Time for a chat?

How often do you use social media to communicate with other people?

Do you prefer to ‘speak’ to your friends and family by text, phone or face-to face?

There seems to be quite a bit of debate on whether social media and mobile communication is harming our ability to hold proper (i.e. face to face) conversations. I have a Facebook account, although only visit it 2 or 3 times a week, and my Twitter feed is embarrassingly small but I do choose text or email people rather than call them (especially when I’m busy).

I used to say that I avoided using the phone as my job involved spending most of my day talking to people, initially as a recruiter and then in HR. On reflection I think I just prefer face to face conversations so that I can get the whole picture (body language) rather than just the voice.

Graham (my husband) is the complete opposite - he point blank refuses to text and regularly calls his friends and family for a chat. Each to his own as they say…

Online vs face-to-face

Online communication has many advantages - it can be simple, convenient and exciting to use. It needs little effort or expense and connects people across the world. Social networking sites can act as a window to other ideas, cultures and perspectives that we may not have access to in our daily life. It also allows us to receive news faster than before often as events unfold. This information can feed into our conversation when we meet friends opening up topics and ideas that we might not have before.

Going online with social networking sites and IMs also opens up new friendships that could not be forged otherwise due to geographical and cultural barriers.

Whilst these benefits should not be ignored we have to ask ourselves  some very pertinent questions:

  • Does online communication enhance our social interactions?
  • Does it affect the way we communicate offline? and
  • Is this effect positive or negative?

There are two types of social media users; those who complement their offline social life with their online one, and those who replace their offline social life with the online one. Obviously the former is healthier than the latter, as social interaction is not just about what is being said, but how it is being said and we gather information from the tone of voice, facial expressions and body language.

It seems that technology is cutting us ‘off from what should be the lifeblood of human interaction: real conversation’ although ‘90% of our most important conversations still take place over the phone or in person.’ This tells me that we are communicating more but using a wider range of methods to do this. One suggestion is that fear is pushing us to use social media and mobile technology to communicate and I can see why that would happen - it’s far easier to duck out of an engagement by text than phone.

Better communication at work

So, is there a protocol around communication at work?

Building solid, reliable and effective relationships are critical to effective team working. There are very few jobs that expect people to spend the day in isolation so most of us have to learn to work with a diverse group of people. Relationships at work are different to those we make socially and often we have nothing else in common with the people we work with. Because of this it is important to make a little bit more effort.

Research on college students found that problem-solving online was more efficient than face-to-face which suggests that using online methods could improve problem solving at work.

However, research comparing online and face-to-face interactions found that people meeting face-to-face formed more positive impressions of their conversational partner. So, if the conversation is going to be difficult, or the relationship is critical for the business partnership meeting in person would be better.

Good communication skills are one of the most sought after skills in the workplace. Some simple statistics:

  • 93 percent of employers consider good communication skills more important than any degree subject; and
  • 75 percent of employers place more emphasis on oral communication skills as a hiring prerequisite.

Good communications skills help you to build effective working relationships as well as help you to understand your role and responsibilities. This is why we have dedicated a module to improving your communication skills on the website.

How to improve your communication skills

If you are a member of My Working Life and haven’t accessed the Communications module yet I urge you to do so - in the meantime here are a few key points to take away with you today:

  • Do make the time to speak to people ‘in the flesh’ on a regular basis to make sure you are in tune with their mood and well-being.
  • Don’t use text to ‘call in’ sick - it immediately looks as if you are making things up.
  • Do try and say thank you in person - it will mean more to them - if they are not in the same building call them. You can follow up by email so that they can reread and get that nice glow when they want to but avoid texting at all costs.
  • Don’t use text as your default - it can appear rude if you never pick up the phone.
  • Always give feedback in person - no exceptions!
  • Don’t rely on email to keep your manager up to date - you need a proper conversation to keep yourself on track and build the relationship.

Conversations do take more time - but they are worth the effort.

If you want to improve your communications skills take a look at our Communications module(for free!).