Technology and Communication

A study a couple of years ago found that 63% of executives were making fewer business trips because of technology.

Instead of a plane trip, face-to-face meetings and a plane trip back, they used email, videoconferencing, or online meetings, according to the Accountemps study.

If you’re a manager who’s spending less time with a suitcase and more with a mouse, you’ll want to pay attention to the nature of the media we use, and especially when sending important messages.

A few years ago we heard a lot about etiquette in electronic messaging (netiquette) on the Internet, about needing to be conscious of how messages might be misconstrued by receivers. One of the ideas to come out of that effort was emoticons, little text symbols that aimed to make up for the loss of facial expressions and body language.

Emoticons and netiquette have pretty much disappeared, but the world of electronic communication still can be a dangerous place.

And especially dangerous if the stakes are high, as they’re likely to be when managers communicate this way. So, let’s further explore some issues that arise when we communicate electronically, rather than face-to-face.

In my limited experience with videoconferencing, for example, I found I had to work harder just catch the words, which reduced the amount facial expression information I took in. And, if the camera adjusted to take in more facial expressions, then some body language was lost.

Think, too, about the differences in messages sent by email versus those sent as conventional printed letters. Email certainly leads to faster responses and greater efficiency. However, when sending a printed letter we proofread it both on the screen and in print. And, the time between our initial thoughts and sending the letter is longer. That provides time for second thoughts, sober or otherwise, thoughts that might be wiser or better expressed.

Here’s one more challenge: I recently looked at the idea of being an online seminars facilitator. Participants would take part through their computers. In addition to getting a voice feed, they would also watch the screen, which would be divided into three active sections. One portion would carry my notes, another would show reader questions, and a third would show something else.

As the presenter, I think I could handle the sending. But, how would receivers handle these flows of information? In person, it’s easy to watch a speaker, see her slides on screen, and listen to her at the same time. But, is it the same taking in all this information when it comes through a computer screen and speakers?

Don’t get me wrong. I like new technologies, not because they’re replacing something else, but because they offer new options. Whether through access, price, or interactivity level, new technology opens doors to communicators.

But, we need to think about the implications for receivers when we communicate through new media. Come to think of it, didn’t Marshall McLuhan write the book on this a generation ago?

In summary: With more managers communicating through new technologies, rather than travel and face-to-face meetings, we need to consider what can happen to important messages when they are transmitted through the new media.

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