Is too much communication killing communication?


  • Columns
  • Monday, 19 Oct 2015

Illustration: 123rf.com

Social media provides us with many instant and wide-reaching ways to communicate, but let’s not forget the more old-fashioned but no less important skills like face-to-face conversation and letter-writing.

I WAS greatly amused by a cartoon recently that depicted two angels at the gates to heaven. One was saying to the other: “Have you noticed how the new arrivals these days don’t seem to have much to say to each other, but they all have this strange twitching problem with their thumbs?”

While I may never see heaven’s gates, these days it’s hard not to be concerned that in our brave new world of texting, Snapchat, Instagram, etc, it can be more difficult for entrepreneurs and business managers to book meetings — or even to get a potential investor, supplier or customer on the phone.

Don’t get me wrong; there is no greater advocate of social media than yours truly (by the way, do say hello on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram and Vine!). But these sorts of platforms should enhance our live conversations, not replace them entirely — there’s no substitute for making a new contact than in person.

The mobile technology that has made it so easy for us to communicate effortlessly across great distances through one form of communication is threatening another, as phone calls become more rare.

An example: A friend recently told me about how his 17-year-old son became perplexed one day because his best friend wasn’t instantly replying to text messages.

“I know he’s there, so why isn’t he responding?” the son declared.

When my friend suggested that perhaps his son should “phone” his buddy, he was met with derision. “Phone him? Are you kidding, Dad? That would be so uncool!”

Uncool or not, when it comes to doing business, the ability to conduct telephonic and face-to-face conversations intelligently and personably remains an essential asset, and only comes with practice. Being capable of confidently holding a conversation is as important as making a confident, strong first impression on someone you want to do business with.

The value of such skills can never be understated.

In the meantime, you are assessing your new business colleague — getting a sense of his or her character and situation too.It’s not just your conversational skills that need to be polished, if you want to succeed in business: If you’re looking to have a conversation, you’ll need to be able to write and send a stellar email and presentation, in order to get that meeting.

Or if you’re looking for a job, the recruitment process also relies heavily on old-fashioned writing skills, since catching the attention of a hiring manager not only requires a nicely qualified résumé, but also a well-written, memorable cover letter — not much has changed as far as that process is concerned.

And the truth is that for most job openings, it’s likely that a hiring manager will look at a great many equally qualified applicants who have almost identical, polite and well-formatted (yet dull) cover letters. As I have often pointed out with regard to marketing products and services: Standing out from the crowd is the name of the game.

The same holds true when it comes to getting a job.

The head of human resources at an American company recently told me that they just hired a young woman who paraphrased a popular beer commercial in her cover letter. She unashamedly wrote: “I might just be ‘the most interesting woman in the world’ — or at the very least in your pile of applications!” The sheer whoa-look-at-this audacity of that statement got her an interview, and she eventually landed a job — in the marketing department, in fact!

We also shouldn’t overlook the importance of handwriting as a form of communication. I still consider one of the most impactful forms of communication to be the handwritten note. Whether it’s to convey gratitude, express condolences or lavish praise, I find few things make as powerful an impression as the handwritten word.

The fact that such a note is not a quick text or email makes it even more outstanding, and valuable. This is why I used to send many handwritten notes in the early days of Virgin, and I still write and mail many letters by hand today. More and more schools around the world are ceasing to teach cursive writing — or “joined-up” writing, as I call it — but it’s worth learning to do it well.

Robert Frost once wrote: “Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.” Although he may never have laid eyes on a smartphone, the late poet might as well have been writing about its effects on today’s world. — Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

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