I have just finished a book which discussed ‘Practical Communication for Managers’ – but which was published in 1979. (I did say that I have an extensive Library of out of date books didn’t I?)

It included a pie chart of the time that Managers spent in communication processes of one sort or another, and which looks like this

So we can see that in 1979 10% of a Manager’s time would be spent reading such things as reports and 13% in probably writing them. Only 16% would be engaging in personal communication face to face with people; and a full 20% of his time would be taken up with meetings.

The writer of this book complained bitterly about the effect that such innovative devices as the telex machine was having on the effectiveness of communication within the workplace; and he painted a dire picture of what would happen to such values as trust, cooperation and teamwork with the loss of more personal communication.

It was also around this time that a Harvard Business School study found that the majority of business communication was actually ineffective.

Since then, we have had an explosion in non-personal communication devices. If he thought that the telex machine heralded the end of civilization as we knew it, what would he think of the computer, emails, text messages, facebook, twitter and all the other technical achievements that have improved our ability to communicate?

And how would a pie chart of the time spent by managers in the communication process today look?

Think of your first task at work on a Monday morning? After the coffee, or sometimes even before it, we switch on the computer and download our emails. Then – we read them; all of them! We could save the attachments to be read at another time, but most of us feel a sense of guilt if we do not deal with each email all the way through to the bitter end!

And that could mean reading the email, checking to see if there have been others which may be ‘further to my email of 07.30 am’ which came in at 07.32 and greatly alter the intent of the original. We then open and read the attachment/s carefully noting those areas which mean more work for us. Then we will probably action it immediately, by replying or forwarding it to the appropriate people.

Or at least, we may start out this way; but as time goes by and enthusiasm fails we falter in our intent and those emails that arrived last may get scant attention – we are just exhausted !!

By now we have probably spent up to two hours or more in supposedly communicating with our senior managers and our subordinate staff members. And we did it without leaving our office, without getting off our chairs and without ever seeing the person that we are supposedly communicating with.

In the days of the telex machine, if we had a query about a piece of correspondence we picked up the telephone – but now our first response to something in our email that we may not understand is to fire off another email to query it.

In fact we are so determinately stuck to our keyboard that we may actually resort to sending emails to people who sit no more than three feet away from us.

If the telex was going to end the world, where are we heading now? And if most of our communication was ineffective in 1979 – what’s the score now?

I ask, because one thing has not changed – and that is the basic principle of effective communication. The principle that communication must include information to fulfill the intellectual component but equally requires the emotional connection which makes that information meaningful. Without the latter we do not have communication – what we do have is information overload.

In too many offices throughout the world managers are drowning under ‘information overload’ and too little concern is being felt about the emotional component of our communication.

But – It is the emotional component that engages our values, our ethics, our enthusiasm and our energy. Totally impersonal information received in the isolation of our computer monitor divorces us completely from all that.

I think we are now paying the price of that disconnection; the communication focused on information and received in isolation and without ethical concern. Perhaps we need to decrease the percentage of reading and writing and increase the percentage of personal interaction, leading to more effective communication that focuses on the human engagement with the message and the emotional concern for the outcome.

My author in 1979 painted a dire picture of what would happen to such values as trust, cooperation and teamwork with the loss of personal communication; and I think we may have found out.

Because it is the people that inspire and create communities and teams, it never has been, and never will be electronic devices or emails; especially those received in isolation.

Michele @ Trischel

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