Care and Feeding

October 5, 2008 by
Filed under: People, Teamwork 

How we decide to go about our daily lives has a significant on the outcome, both immediate and long-term. Over the years we have come up with all sort of alternatives for communicating with others, and I fear that we tend to lean towards those forms that go against the nurturing of our relationships, in the name of multi-tasking. For the most part, we are not doing our eyesight any good, either, as we spend most of our work-day (and much time outside of the office) staring at our screens.

Most of us are guilty of doing more stuff with low-fidelity connections. E-mail over phone calls. Phone calls over face to face communication. We’re in a hurry, we are overloaded with information to process, we have a lot to get done. We have gone to communicating with our thumbs on BlackBerries over all 10 fingers on keyboards. We have moved towards abbreviated English (LOL) and smilies to cram more information into less time. Twitter replaces chat, which replaces e-mail, which replaces…In so doing, we have totally lost all the nuances of intonation in the voice, and all body language and facial expressions. We have arguably lost 93% of the fidelity of our interactions, if the 1971 study from Albert Mehrabian still holds true. I doubt that smilies recovers much of that.

That loss of fidelity, even if it is not 93%, leads to more mistakes and misinterpretations. This can cost additional time to correct the mistakes, and may lead to deeper damage of the relationship itself.

It has been said that we renew every cell in our bodies every few years, and I would argue that our psyche goes through the same sort of refreshing. If a great deal of the health of our psyche is in the richness of our interactions with others, this can bias our approaches for communication so that we benefit, as does the person on the other side. Communicating through higher fidelity means could be seen as the care and feeding of our psyche (and the care and feeding of the psyche of those we interact with). Like the watering of plants or feeding our pets, but far more important.

And the art is disappearing.

We need to increase the fidelity of communications whenever possible, recognizing that the value in doing so is multi-faceted. All told, I would argue that we actually save time in the long run when we do this more often, more consistently. Our psyche benefits from the richer interaction as well.

If you are about to e-mail someone that you can get up and walk to, get off your butt and make that happen. Take breaks as opportunities to connect with others around you. Don’t grab a lunch to go and bring it back to your computer, and never share a coffee with your LCD display. Take advantage of the fact that airplane seats are getting tighter, and strike up a conversation with your neighbor. Don’t lose the art.

I don’t know of any studies that indicate that we become more productive or enrich our lives if we spend more time in front of a screen. We don’t get more done, we can’t sustain the focus that would be required to do so. Besides, I find face to face communication far more interesting. – JB


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