A new client of mine—a high performing, up-and-coming leader—recently got feedback that he needed to communicate better at the office.
So we sat down together to get clear on the current situation and to start planning new actions.
As we talked in his office, I snooped over his shoulder at his desktop.
What I saw were no fewer than 10 different applications open and active, including his three email accounts (work, personal, and a department inbox), instant messaging, his company’s Slack channel and more.
I asked him to describe how he’s using those tools with his teams and clients.
He told me he’s constantly bouncing back and forth between them all, trying to keep up.
Hmmmm. . . .
It’s no wonder more and more of us are struggling to communicate better at the office.
This scenario is all too familiar in our workplaces,.
And we’ve accepted it as normal.
In fact, I’ve heard arguments that our finger flying, thumb-dancing behavior is the natural extension of our advanced society.
That we have to grow up and adapt.
That asking for different behavior is a step backwards at best–that it’s “old school.”
To that, I politely say “bull.”
Yes – our cloud computing, smartphones and other technology tools have changed our lives for the better, arming us with more flexibility, information, and power than ever before.
And – with great power comes great responsibility, as Spiderman says.
Even though our use of these tools has exploded with unprecedented speed, no one has stopped to teach us how to integrate them into the work and life we want to have.
When there are no rules, the technology rules us.
Why Should We Care?
Letting technology rule might be fine – if everything else was working well.
But it isn’t.
We’re missing something important in our professional and personal lives.
We’re missing connection.
“Connection?” you laugh, amazed.
“Why, right now I’m connected to my 400 Twitter followers, 875 Facebook friends, and my email contact list in the thousands! I’m more connected than ever before!”
All true. You are connected.
But are you connect-ing?
Unintentionally over the past few decades of exponential computing speed and innovation, we’ve replaced connecting with clicking.
And it’s not working.
Connection is a basic human need– a longing, even.
- Less connected to their colleagues, even those just a floor away,
- More distant from their friends and family, and
- Even farther away from their own thoughts and voices because they’re constantly responding to the adrenaline ping/buzz/boing of their device(s).
The sad part is that they tell me that’s the way it has to be to be successful in a wired world.
That’s a lie.
There is hope.
There is a way to take control of your technology now, and better communicate at the office–and in the rest of your life.
How do you know if you’re using your personal technology – or if is it using you?
If you’re not sure that your tech is making you a less effective communicator, do a little CSI exploration on your own behavior.
For the next week, pay attention to these behaviors:
- Do you notice yourself “pulled” into work emails and calls during your times you’re trying to be present for your friends or family–or when you’re trying to rest?
- Does a friend or loved one complain that you pay more attention to the technology than to them?
- Do you notice an anxiety or jumpy feeling in your body when your technology buzzes or beeps, or when you haven’t checked email in a while?
- Do you text or manually dial while you are driving a car?
If after carefully examining your actios–and perhaps asking your friends and family for their observations–if you’ve said yes to any of those questions, your technology is using you.
What to Try Instead: Three Strategies to Communicate Better at the Office
Strategy 1: Decide when you are “open for business.”
You can’t be open for business all the time and still do a great job with your business.
I mean, even WalMart closes on Christmas. And they have over 2 million employees.
So why are YOU trying to be always available?
You can take control of when you’re open for business and when you’re not.
- “Open for business” means your devices on and close-by –you’re “open” to receiving information and acting on it.
- “Closed for business” means you’re trusting that the outside world of work can survive without you for a little while to allow you to do other things, like take care of your health and family.
It is a myth that you have to be responsive 100% of the time.
I know–the idea of being unplugged makes you uncomfortable.
You’re saying things like:
- At my company, people expect me to respond immediately. That’s just how we do things.
- I serve clients, and when they say jump, I have to jump.
- My boss is always online and so I have to be, too.
Take a deep breath. I’ve got you.
If you’ve read this far, you know down deep in your soul that something’s not working for you when you work with those assumptions.
You’re ready for the next strategy.
Strategy 2: Make your own rules – and share them with others.
We teach others how to treat us.
If we’re constantly available and responding – whether or not the request is of high priority and value – we teach them that our time is wide open and less valuable.
But, if we communicate better about how and when we will respond, we start to shift other’s expectations and create clearer, more effective communication overall.
So decide on the rules that match how you want to work and live.
Think of these as your “click-free zones.”
Share those with others you interact with. For example:
- On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I don’t check email after 7 p.m.
- I do not use my business cell phone on weekends.
- On Mondays, I don’t check email until after our weekly staff meeting.
Feel to extreme for you? You can certainly make exceptions, as long as you decide them in advance and communicate them. For example:
- I don’t check email after 7 p.m. except during the week we are on deadline with the monthly newsletter.
- I only turn my iPhone on in meetings if I am expecting a client call or we need to find information that will help the meeting. If my iPhone’s on for one of these reasons, I’ll say so at the start of the meeting; otherwise, it will be off.
After you’ve communicated your rules, act on them consistently.
Making too many exceptions teaches people you’re not serious – and sends a message that what you say is not worth believing.
And consistent behavior and expectations is a strong foundation for creating better communication.
Strategy #3: Experiment with connecting differently.
Again, let’s test some new behaviors.
- Instead of clicking, why not call? While voicemail is misused too, a brief, upbeat, and clear message can help build a stronger personal connection.
- Instead of clicking, why not walk to someone’s location, even if it takes you a few minutes out of the way. You never know who you’ll run into along the way. The extra steps won’t hurt you, either.
- If you’re like a lot of my clients who’re constantly on conference calls with people in your same location or town, intentionally choose to be with them in their location once in a while. Being physically present and looking at each other face-to-face creates connection, prevents multi-tasking, generates better ideas, and is just more fun!
- Instead of clicking, write a physical note (not an email.) Physical, hand-written notes carry emotion with them, even when expressing the simplest of things. Notes get saved – and remembered.
Better communication at the office is not really about the words we use–it’s about the trust we generate. And personal connection–especially face-to-face contact–is the gold standard of trust.
What Will You Try Next?
In the speed of learning how to use all our technology, we inadvertently have created informal, cultural, and habit-based rules that we’ve never challenged or rejected.
Now, we have the opportunity to design new rules and techniques that work to support our success.
We can take control of these amazing, empowering tools – and with it, take control of our worklives again.
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