(Is Technology Hurting Business Communication?) 

Despite the myriad of ways we have to talk to one another, is our ability to communicate with one another getting better with technology?  Or worse?

On the one hand, the technologies at our disposal today – instant messaging, texting and email – are fantastic time savers.  Small talk is put to a minimum; we ask our question; we get our answer; we end the conversation.  On the other hand, this same lack of small talk can be the basis of a lot of misunderstandings

Communication through a technological basis is known as “lean communication” because there are fewer non-verbal cues for others to rely on.  Non-verbal communication consists of all the messages other than words actually used during the conversation. Some examples include intonation, tone of voice, vocally produced noises, body posture, body gestures, facial expressions or pauses.  None of these can be transferred through the use of technology.  There is no emoticon on a smart phone to indicate a “pause” or intonation change.

A recent study at the University of Michigan found that college students have significantly less empathy (which is the ability to understand and share others’ feelings) than students of past generations.  On the surface, this study seems to perpetuate a common stereotype of the narcissistic Millennials; however the problem is deeper. Empathy breeds trust; as empathy wanes, so does trust.  Without trust, you cannot have a cohesive, effective organization.

Everyone has been involved in meetings that extend far beyond their allotted times, and everyone has bowed out of meetings in order to focus on other things.  However, according to studies done by Kevin Rockman (George Mason University) and Gregory Northcraft (University of Illinois) meetings – held in real time at a physical location, help build trust (and therefore empathy) because participants can see how engaged their cohorts are.  They are able to confirm that (for lack of a better term) that their colleagues are “pulling” their weight.  In addition, everyone is able to receive confirmation of their hard work.  With text, IM or email, engagement and confirmation gets lost in cyberspace.

Meetings can be inefficient, and the use of technologies can be large time-saver.  However, to form a cohesive business unit, a company must use both.  Employees need get together often enough to recharge the trust needed to work effectively together.

For more information on other workplace engagement issues, visit our Workplace Research section of the Snelling website to learn best practices on issue ranging from overtime costs to managing different personalities in the workplace.