Electronic Communication

I was in Whistler, Canada last week (about 2 hours west of Vancouver) speaking a group of fantastic CEOs. I brought up a statistic that generated a good bit of discussion. The statistic has been on our website for quite some time – almost 70% of workplace communication is now electronic and this has created about 243% more workplace conflict. 

The definition of electronic communication is not just emails, but all forms of communication that leverages some device or technology such as text messaging, webinars, videos, etc. I argued that while this has made us infinitely more efficient (the ability to connect with many people in one setting or by multi-tasking) it has caused more conflict because very few, and I mean very few, companies have actually trained people or have electronic media protocols.

If you think of how we have been communicating all our lives, we have had countless experiences from the time we were born in our families and all through our growing years to learn how to communicate and appreciate the axioms and norms associated with workplace communication. But there has been no training on how to do so electronically and the fact that over 70% of our interaction is now electronic, makes this a very bizarre observation.

What kinds of messages should be electronic? What kinds should be email versus voice mail versus live phone versus live in person versus all the other forms? What kinds of emails should be other folks be copied on and just how dangerous is the “reply all” feature on email? This kind of training is not particularly sophisticated and does not take long and can be electronic itself. Communication between two people involves both content and intent. The latter has become much harder to decipher and in contentious communications, a normal and healthy part of any organizational function and life, misinterpreting intent is at the heart of the growing conflict.

This week, I urge you to talk to your team – whoever it is that you regularly interact with – and formulate a policy for all your electronic communications.  Agree to some protocols and see how much of a difference it makes not only in reducing conflict, but actually reducing the volume of electronic communications you send/receive each day.

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