A High-Contact, Low-Touch World November 10, 2008Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership, Networking.
Tags: Best Of 2008, Interaction, Networking, Twitter, Yammer
All these social networking tools are supposed to increase our interaction and communication with other people. For long-distance relationships, this is certainly true: I am sharing thoughts and ideas with people that I otherwise would never interact with on a regular basis. From that perspective, social tools are improving those relationships and bringing depth and detail that would otherwise escape me.
For those folks that I see every day, tools like Twitter and Yammer can paradoxically create distance where it didn’t previously exist. A coworker recently complained about this, pointing out that Yammer offers yet another way for people to hide in their office and text to each other, avoiding real, live conversations. She’s absolutely right, and I don’t quite know how to solve the problem.
On the one hand, the message stream that is captured and shared by Yammer and Twitter is really useful, and allows many people to experience a single train of thought as it occurs. On the other hand, people really need to look at each other and engage in actual interaction, as messy as it might be.
Sadly, the introverted world of IT makes this worse. I am in the distinct, tiny minority of IT professionals that are extroverted. Sometimes, I think the “I” in IT stands for “introverted.” The synthetic, predictable world of computers provides a safe haven for those who are shy and allows those folks to succeed without ever developing some really important communication skills. Don’t misunderstand: many talented introverts achieve great success in IT, and that’s a good thing. Were they to be thrust into sales or marketing, it would be painful and counter-productive. The wardrobe errors alone would be overwhelming.
Nonetheless, providing tools to these introverts that allow them to further withdraw and still be successful may be a mistake. Teams succeed by communicating. Good communication involves more than 140 characters of text and should include body language, voice tone, and facial expressions. The elimination of direct engagement first began when people began hiding behind email and later learned how to use voice mail and call screening to their advantage. The latest tools make it even easier to avoid other people and still get work done.
As leaders, and extroverted ones at that, we need to recognize that this is happening and force people to engage. I will sometimes intervene when I see an email chain go on for too long and insist that the communicants actually gather and meet. I also have a stock question when someone comes to me to complain about someone else: “Have you discussed this with this person?” The first step to solving problems is to talk about them, and we need to gently encourage people to do this, in spite of the cool tools that tempt us otherwise.