Before you read on, take a look around your office – how many people are actually talking to each other? I’d hasten to guess that most are plugged into their earphones, or beavering away behind their computer screens, probably emailing the person that sits opposite them. Am I right?
In the race to innovate and implement new technology, the digitalisation of the way we work has never been faster. But is this domination of technology in our lives getting us out of the habit of communicating using one of our most powerful tools - our voices?
I think it is, and as a result, I’m concerned that the hugely valuable art of spoken communication is being lost in our workplaces - simply because we don’t have the opportunity, or even the inclination to talk to each other enough. After all, it’s far easier to send a bulk email to ten people, than it is to call them all individually or initiate face-to-face meetings.
Instead, most of us are spending our working days contributing to the 269 billion emails and 65 billion WhatsApp messages sent every day, sparingly picking up the phone, or meeting in person to have a conversation. Typing is now our default, go-to mode of communication and our keyboards are the facilitators – usually out of convenience and speed, but mainly because we’re on auto-pilot.
I’ve said this before, but the human touch (including our voices) just can’t be replicated by technology. Yes, email or Skype messaging might be quicker and easier, but these forms of communication usually aren’t as effective as the spoken word – and that’s what many of us just don’t realise.
So, here’s why I think we should be encouraging our workforces to talk more and type less:
Talking is usually more productive
It sounds counter-intuitive, especially when we’re told all the time that using technology will help us become more productive (and much of it does), but that’s not always the case when we’re trying to communicate to get work done quickly and efficiently.
Email is a productivity zapper, it’s a fact. Many of us focus incessantly on emptying our inboxes every day to make us feel more productive and efficient, when really, the opposite is happening. In fact, research has shown that “62% of emails in the average inbox aren’t important and can be processed in bulk”. As such, this obsession with email often serves as a diversionary tactic, taking our attention away from the higher-value projects, and higher-value conversations we really should be focusing on.
What’s more, with more of us sending and receiving more emails than ever before, it’s no wonder that it’s not the most effective communication tool. We just can’t keep up, and as a result, the “Sorry for the delayed response” line is becoming a common fixture in most of our inboxes. However, using our voices to communicate, ask a question or provide a brief for an urgent task is far more likely to elicit, a). an actual response, and b). a quicker response. In fact, after one person has spoken, the other replies in an average of just 200 milliseconds, compared to an email or WhatsApp message that can get swallowed into a black hole, never to be read, let alone replied to.
But it’s not just speed of response which makes voice a productive form of communication. It’s the fact that this response will probably be more useful. For instance, research published in the Journal of Social Psychology, found that many people tend to “overestimate the power of their persuasiveness via text-based communication, and underestimate the power of their persuasiveness via face-to-face communication.” In fact, a face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than email. Plus, I’m willing to bet that you can talk faster than you can type!
Talking to each other develops a stronger rapport
It’s almost impossible to build up a productive rapport over email or via digital messaging – no matter how many emoji’s you use. You just can’t get a real feel for the person behind the keyboard without actually hearing their voice.
This couldn’t be truer than in the world of recruitment. Yes, it’s possible to build a picture of a candidate's technical skills and experience by reading through their CV, but it’s much harder to make an accurate judgement of their softer skills, and really get an understanding of what they’re looking for by reading words on a screen. That’s one of the many reasons our recruiters will always prioritise voice communication over keyboard when building a relationship with their candidates.
Plus, the typed word just doesn’t capture tone or expression - both fundamental elements of effective rapport building. Using your voice, however, injects humanity and personality, whilst ensuring the message you’re trying to get across is clear and understood. And this is all backed up by academic research – Yale School of Management found that we can assess emotion most accurately when listening to voices, compared to any other form of communication.
Talking helps build trust
We’ve all been there – you’ve sent a reactive one-line email reply whilst on the go, which, when received at the other end, has been misinterpreted by the recipient completely. Or, due to your mounting inbox, you’re struggling to respond in a timely way to your key stakeholders. These types of situations can easily damage relationships over time, leading colleagues, clients and stakeholders to lose trust in you bit by bit.
Interestingly, the speed of our digital response is now perceived as a key indicator of our trustworthiness. So, to put this into real terms, by not responding to an email in a timely manner for example, we could essentially risk signalling to the sender that their request isn’t a priority for us, or that we don’t perceive it (and inadvertently, them) to be important. And, as the number of emails we’re all receiving continues to rise, the more likely it is that this will happen, and thus trust amongst colleagues, clients and stakeholders will become weaker and weaker over time.
There’s a fine line between digitalising the way we all work, and encouraging our people to use one of their best human assets, their voices, to do their jobs, and do their jobs well. But, I do think it’s possible to do – especially if you, as a leader, can start making a concerted effort to do more talking and less typing yourself.
So, next time you’re embroiled in an email conversation which is going back and forth and dragging on and on, book a meeting or pick up the phone - you’ll get the outcome you need far more quickly, whilst ensuring the relationship with the recipient remains intact. Or, when an urgent task pops up which you need to delegate to a member of your team, resist the urge to send an email marked as “high importance”. Instead brief them face-to-face or give them a call. Once the task has been understood, then is the time to follow up with a confirmation email. And, if you feel telephone calls are too disruptive or you don’t have time for a face-to-face meeting, try sending a voice memo instead – telephones, meetings and video conferencing are not the only ways you can use your voice to communicate.
So, you’ve come to the end of my blog – how many phone calls or conversations have you heard in that time? Very few is probably the answer. Instead of voices, you can probably hear the continuous tapping of keyboards. It’s this that needs to be tackled, before we all forget how to actually talk to each other. After all, it’s our people, and their voices that really power our businesses, and we must ensure the volume gets turned up.
This blog was originally posted here.
Alistair has been the CEO of Hays, plc since Sept. 2007. An aeronautical engineer by training (University of Salford, UK, 1982), Alistair commenced his career at British Aerospace in the military aircraft division. From 1983-1988, he worked Schlumberger filling a number of field and research roles in the Oil & Gas Industry in both Europe and North America.
In 2002, he returned to the UK as CEO of Xansa, a UK based IT services and back-office processing organisation. During his 5 year tenure at Xansa, he re-focused the organisation to create a UK leading provider of back-office services across both the Public and Private sector and built one of the strongest offshore operations in the sector ith over 6,000 people based in India.
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