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Communications Cowardice

iStock_000000221966_SmallThis Wednesday’s Struming touches on what I believe is a pervasive problem in business and life, Communications Cowardice. I suspect all of us have been guilty of it at one time or another. My definition of communications cowardice is sending an email, text, or some form of an electronic message, avoiding plain old spoken communication. The real cowardice is evident in those instances when the sender knows in his or her heart that a phone call or a person to person meeting would be a far better way to deal with an issue, but is too “chicken” to do so. (Also see Didn’t You See My Email? and The Email Avalanche).

Electronic communication is wonderful and has plenty of uses. No need to chat when imparting basic info, things like, “See you in 30 minutes”, “Meet me at the office”, etc. Electronic communication connects us to each other in ways we couldn’t even dream of years ago. Social media has put this phenomenon on steroids with our “friends”, even considering that the definition of a friend in the digital world is far looser than in the old-time analog one. I used to know who my friends were (or at least thought so). In today’s digital world I seem to have more friends than I can shake a stick at.

I am far more digitally knowledgeable and active than those of my age, and in fact more than many far younger as well. So when I yearn for yesteryear, it is not through the eyes of someone who is an old fart and fears the new communications frontier. Yet I still yearn for more person-to-person communications rather than digital ones. Real dialogue. Listening. Talking. Thinking about what was said and reacting. I have been criticized throughout my life for being too quick on the solution without real listening (Perhaps this is Lonny’s 5th Habit “Seek First to Understand Me, Then Shut Up”—I don’t think Covey had that one in mind). This criticism was often legitimate. Still is. Be that as it may, with analog dialogue you have the opportunity to listen to someone, hear the passion of their feelings, and if in person, observe body language, which communicates far more than mere words. With electronic messaging you have none of that. In fact electronic communication is terrible in expressing feelings. So much is misread into the underlying feelings in a lifeless email or text.

I fear that today’s “yutes” (sorry for the overuse of the Cousin Vinny reference—but it was great) lack some fundamental oral skills and fully developed writing skills. These were critical skills as I entered the business world in the 70s. I recall my boss at BBDO, Jack Thorne, urging me to write a business memo as if it were drafted for the “Man on the Moon”. Facts, rationale, crisp, simple and to the point. Not flowery. I paid attention Jack. You were right.

Oral communication is best of all. You can explain, change direction, influence and drive toward a solution. I enjoy a business meeting recap when the leader says, “OK just to recap, here’s what we are doing”. There’s a unified game plan. I also enjoy a dialogue and discussion that makes me think and challenges my point of view. Despite the strength of my personal convictions on many topics, I also can change my mind. That’s what human dialogue is about. Did an email ever make you change your mind? Even worse, a Facebook post on a political candidate–why waste everyone’s time, please outlaw these.

So my Struming advice to you when the subject is really important, don’t wimp out and just send an email or text. Call and/or meet instead. I guarantee you it is more likely to have a positive outcome.




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5 Comments

  1. Jamie says:

    Great point, Lonny. I am continually hounding my team to pick up the phone and make the call. It seems to be much more prevalent with the under 30’s.

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Keep on hounding them Jamie. Email is over-used in sensitive situations when a call would be far better way to communicate.

  2. Chuck McLeester says:

    I sometimes think the yutes I work with don’t know that the device they carry around in their pocket can make phone calls. Just saying…

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Those mishugena yutes. PS Why do you think AT&T/Verizon moved to unlimited minutes plans with capped data usage? They know what you are saying is true.

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