No Wonder We Can't Communicate
Last week I was doing a Communications Training workshop and one of the participants asked me how he should handle a situation that has come up in his office. He told me the company has instant messaging among employees and he recently asked a younger employee a question and the reply was a simple "IDK".
He had no idea what that meant, so he had to Google IDK to find out it stood for I Don't Know. He also said this wasn't the first time something like this has happened.
This is just another example of the changes we've seen in communication that have resulted in so many people having a difficult time communicating with others.
The Communication Explosion
Think about this. In the 1800’s the only way two people could communicate was face to face. Two people talking. It was a simple, but very effective form of communication and everyone did it.
Then Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876. After it got into the hands of a mass audience, people could now talk to each other face to face AND could talk over the phone.
The fax machine, or at least a very crude earlier form, was actually invented before the phone. It dates back to 1843, but never really hit the commercial market in a big way until the 1980’s.
More recently, technology has exploded. Now, in addition to being able to talk to others in person, or over the phone or fax, we can email others, send them text messages, use other forms of instant messaging, talk to others over social media platforms, communicate through the internet and those are just the forms of written communication. People can communicate by using audio and video messages, or over virtual meeting platforms like Zoom.
In a period of about 25-years, we’ve suddenly been hit by a massive number of ways to communicate. We have a long list of ways to communicate with people now, than just talking to them face to face, or over the phone.
There has been a communication explosion like we’ve never seen before. Never in the history of of the world have we seen such a change in communication like we have in the last two decades.
When you think about that, it’s much easier to understand why somebody doesn’t know what IDK means.
More Chatter = Less Connection
When I do communication training, I’m always surprised by some of the challenges people face that are real and occur every day. Recently a person who attended one of my sessions said English isn’t his first language and even though he has been in Canada for several years, he doesn’t understand the jokes and stories others in the office tell and feels left out.
That’s something else that has happened that hasn’t been widely recognized enough I believe. As we make all these changes in the way we communicate, we are also seeing larger immigration numbers in Canada, making the communication problem even bigger.
It still gets down to some basic questions. If we have more ways to communicate with others today than ever, why does it seem it’s so hard to communicate? Also, although we communicate with more people than we have ever before, why does it feel like we’re often not connecting well with others at work and in our personal lives?
Face to face, phone, email, text, and social media. Communication shouldn’t be so difficult.
Use It or Lose It
I sometimes think I would like to see the old days of getting a newspaper like we did in the 70’s, and discovering what’s going on in the world. Remember those days when there were news and sports stories filling the pages that we hadn’t heard before? It could be details of the game the night before involving our favourite team or a plane crash we hadn’t heard about. Of course, we had radio and TV, but we didn’t have social media bringing us details of events as soon as they happened.
I quickly realized although there’s nostalgia connected to those days, I wouldn’t want them back. I wouldn’t want to live in a world again where information wasn’t so readily available.
I think communication is much the same. While we long for simpler days when we talked to others and felt a real connection, we need to realize those days will never come back. We’ll continue to keep in touch with many more people, but really connect with less.
That’s where the challenge lies. We need to use forms of communication to keep in touch with more people, but when it comes to the people who really matter to us, like our family, friends and co-workers, we need to find ways to communicate better and that normally involves talking directly to them. That could be doing it in-person, over the phone, or through a video connection.
The challenge as I see it, is finding ways to use communication skills we’ve started to lose because we haven’t been using them. If we continue to use electronic forms of communication more, then it will just get harder to talk in person.
If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
I suggest people find ways to talk more to the people who matter to them. Instead of sending a text, pick up the phone and call. Instead of emailing a co-worker, walk down the hallway and talk to them.
Years ago, Steven Jobs kept bathrooms at Apple far apart, so people would have to walk a long way to get to them. During that walk he knew they would talk to others and that would lead to fewer cases of miscommunication and better collaboration.
Maybe asking a question in person or over the phone would avoid an answer of “IDK”?
I offer Communication Training workshops for groups of people, done in-person or virtually. I also do one-on-one communication coaching sessions virtually. Full details can be found on my website.
I also think about the response just being IDK. The newer tools have resulted in communication being more a game of ping pong to pass the problem or issue back to the person who asked vs. a conversation of IDK - but here are some thoughts of how could answer that question. I think everyone is so used to google the answer and think if they don't know someone else must have it so why should I try to explore and find a more indepth response.
Great point Susan. "Ping pong" is a great description of what's happening.
Amen! How many young people might make the effort to implement your suggestions.
Good post. I think we'd still get IDK but just in a form we can understand. The truth is that many fail to keep learning thinking they've gone to school and that's enough. As the world progresses we must all do our part to keep up in order to connect intelligently rather than just provide superficial communication. ~Linda