Executive Communication Skills: Tech Habits

Technology has changed how we work and often where we work, as we are now all mobile, and always on. Smartphones, net books and tablets have enabled our ability to work faster, cheaper, more efficiently and often more productively. Through social media we are able to meet people we might never have met and develop working relationships we would have been unable to develop years ago.

Technology has penetrated every crevice of the working environment, it has not, and will not, replace the value and importance of face-to-face human interaction. This is often where it gets tricky.

Recently there have been some great articles with lots of terrific points from great sources, including a few I have contributed to in the New York Times, Investor’s Business Daily, Forbes and Entrepreneur, around potential pitfalls to avoid when meshing our new found mobility with face-to-face interaction in the workplace.

While this post is not a definitive guide by any means, but these 11 tips will help to safely navigate the new workplace, and avoid situations that put a lot of people in bad positions each and every day:

#1 Smartphones are not always associated with work – Fairly or unfairly, tablets and iPhones are often associated with activities such as texting and other non-work activities (unlike laptops). Be aware of that when you pull one out in a meeting; so,

#2 Tell us! – Many people (myself included) take notes digitally. If you do pull out a Smartphone or tablet and are going to proceed with notating in a meeting, tell other attendees “I use my iPad to take notes” – this will prevent us from wondering if you are updated Facebook or playing Medal of Honor while discussions of the company’s financial future go on.

#3 Social Media – Many organizations have a social media policy (and every organization should!) That being said, if you have work friends who are also on social media, realize that if you actually are using your Smartphone or iPad to post to Facebook or to tweet while in said meeting, do not assume the content or the time you posted it will remain a secret. Not really earth-shattering, but it happens, to some individual’s detriment, every day.

#4 Laptops – I often present in corporate conference rooms, and often see 8 or more people whip out the laptop to take notes at a medium sized conference table. This is one area where I think tablets are actually more effective – when a conference table is full of laptops and everyone is seated, there are big 13-17″ barriers between colleagues, and between the presenter and the audience.

#5 Set Rules – If it is your meeting, set the rules. Ask people to set their phones to vibrate, or to turn them off. Asking people not to take notes digitally is a stretch, but asking them not to check email while meeting is not.

#6 Discretion – Some things are unavoidable. Important phone calls come in, and there are critical emails we all get. What is avoidable is lack of communication around those. If you are expecting a critical call, tell everyone before the meeting starts so there is no confusion when you excuse yourself.

#7 Email over everything – Constantly checking your smartphone or tablet email client in front of colleagues, clients, or the boss (I’ve seen all 3) sends a message you don’t want to send. Again, if you are awaiting a critical or time sensitive email, let people know. If you think you are multi-tasking while speaking to a colleague and typing away, you are incorrect. Your colleague may never say anything, but you have sent the message that the text or email is more important.

#8 Email Does Not Emote! – Emails are rarely seen as being too soft. Emails have no intonation, no emotion, no tone, no gestures, no facial expressions, no timbre, etc. Remember that – if there is even the slightest chance that your email might be misinterpreted, pick up the phone.

#9 Context – The other place where email often misses the mark, and causes hurt feelings at best and lots of lost productivity at worst, is context. You send a well thought out, well constructed email to a colleague. The response is “fine.” The sender wonders why the curt, short email. The responder feels good about it, as he or she just landed, had 100 emails in the inbox, and wanted to get a response out to everyone. Without context provided, context can often be invented. That never turns out well.

#10 – Remote Team Members – If you have a team where most employees work on sight, and one or two members work remotely, those team members are at a disadvantage. There is a camaraderie that forms just from being around people for many hours every day. Make a real effort to ensure that remote team members are on sight to interact face-to-face at least a few times a year. Videoconferencing does not, and will not, replace that.

# 10 +++ – Attention! – Finally, when someone is talking to you, try not to look at your smartphone. We are all guilty of it, me included, but occasions turn into habits, and habits often surface at very inopportune times. Give the person in front of you your full attention. It matters. People have lost jobs, important jobs, because of this.

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One Response to “Executive Communication Skills: Tech Habits”

  1. Great article, Matt, and so spot-on! 

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