I love your face, and I promise you that I’m not a creep. I’m just a product manager who values direct, efficient communication. For the same reasons that dating sites require profile photos, I want to see your face. Again, I assure you that I’m not a creep. Call me traditional, but I just want to know what you’re communicating.
To build upon the ‘grumpy old man’ tone of this post, I’ve given up on text messaging. Apparently thumbing out text messages can be significantly risky. For adults, the Mayo clinic sites texting risks to be driving accidents and sleep interference, while teens are additionally at risk for cyberbullying and making horrible decisions/being taken advantage of . I don’t take these risks lightly, but I think that we’re already largely experiencing the ill-effects of texting’s biggest risk: the slow death of actual, personal communication. Although this topic has been widely vented about (and beaten to death) in business journalism, I think my perspective is helpful and that I might possibly have an antidote.
First, I’m happy to disclose that I’m a fairly “sensitive” person by typical standards. I’m a ENFP (Extraversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perception) on the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator , which means that feeling and perception are central to how I operate and interact with others. In short, I tend to absorb a lot from interpersonal interactions. This is probably why I’m being such a grumpy old man about communication. Note: I encourage everyone to learn their MBTI. I have found it helpful for understanding how I operate and how others perceive me. There’s a free online test you can take here.
So what’s my beef with texting? I really do love your face! I find it extremely frustrating to have an actual conversation or discussion on text, because I can’t I hear the intonation of your voice and (more importantly), I can’t see and comprehend your expressions. I can manage texting in my personal life because I simply don’t have to engage in texting conversations if I don’t choose to – I tend to pick up the phone and have a conversation. I guess that move might come off as forceful, but I’d rather disrupt someone and have a 1 minute conversation than suffer 15 minutes of confusing texting. Texting is a fantastic tool for quick transfers of simple information, such as “running late” or “let’s meet at 5pm,” but it’s inefficient for the sharing of options and discussion because it’s hard to understand anyone’s point-of-view in tiny nuggets of text. Aside from all the wasted time, the negative byproduct of using text for conversation is the lost opportunities for personal connection that can be had in voice or face-to-face discussion.
Personal habits transfer to business
I never realized how much I love your face until I became a product management consultant; for this is the first experience I’ve had using Skype in the workplace. It’s like texting, but much worse because there’s a full-sized keyboard involved and the person that you should be speaking to is usually sitting in the next room (and I can hear them typing). It’s a funny thing in offices, we adopt really cool tools, then use them in the worse way. We’ve all heard stories about people receiving 500 emails a day, endless “reply alls,” and so on. Conference calls are sometimes no different; just check out this video, which is really, really funny.
So, I love your face so much because it’s extremely important for me to get as close to it as possible when communicating – whether it actually be in person or via communication tools. As product managers and business analysts, effective communication is our expertise. Let’s challenge ourselves not only on what we’re doing but how we’re getting there via communication. As a product manager and consultant, I feel that it’s doubly important that I focus on communication because it helps drive client satisfaction.
Over the years, I’ve crafted some basic professional communication rules for myself:
- Chat tools are for chats, not discussions. Example: Q-“Hey, where is that file saved?” A-“It’s in the team folder.” These types of simple exchanges are ideal for chat because the information is fact-based and the answer is discrete.
- Consider when a discussion is needed. While an open-door policy is great in the workplace, consider if the discussion you’d like to have needs to happen immediately or if it can wait until a scheduled meeting.
- Love everyone’s face. If a discussion is in order, get face-to-face. If you can’t be in-person, use communication tools to replicate that as closely as possible.
- Use your webcam. This one probably sounds hokey, but for any phone calls scheduled to be longer than 10-15 minutes, use your webcams for video conferencing. There’s a lot to be gleaned from seeing someone’s face during a call. People are also much less likely to tune out and check email, etc. during a video conference vs. a regular conference call. People tend to hate being on camera, so do your best to get them on-board with this best-practice. Skype and Google Chat are free and work very well.
- Consider the meeting space. The layout of a conference room can have an effect on your meeting. I do not prefer the typical long, rectangular boardroom table because it’s difficualt to see the faces of coworkers sitting next to you. Circular tables are great for small groups, but tend to be rare. If you have the space, try arranging a few smaller rectangular tables in an elliptical shape.
- Hold “stand-up” meetings. These are short (5-15 minute) meetings ideally scheduled reoccurring daily. I this is a great practice that I learned here at Seilevel. I’ve found that it’s valuable for teams to have a moment to touch base without the rigidity of an agenda and the hurried pace that we typically ramp into as the day builds. It’s best to hold these in the mornings and face-to-face.
- Don’t take notes in someone’s face. It’s hard to communicate when the other party is head’s-down and either clicking away on a laptop, or writing in a notebook. It’s also hard to think, listen and take notes. Note taking is fine in the classroom because that is, for the most part, a 1-way communication arena. Discussions require all parties to be engaged. Instead, record the meeting. In my experience, until recently, recording meetings was a touchy issue. Some people just don’t enjoy being recorded, and aren’t able to operate as they normally would. For good or for bad, we’re all getting much more comfortable with the notion of always being recorded (in life and work). Seilevel has a great culture wherein everyone is comfortable with recording meetings because we recognize how it improves our work. In fact, we are all equipped with an audio pen (LINK: http://www.livescribe.com/en-us/). If you can’t get one, try using your phone or PC for recording.
Since this blog isn’t one of those lists of “Top ten reasons why…” that have proliferated on my Facebook feed, I’m going stop at 7 rules. Seriously though, I’ve been thinking about these 7 rules for myself quite a bit lately. I think we really need to be aware of how we’re communicating, because the last thing we want to do is become our own speed bump. Or, perhaps you work with someone who breaks these rules. If you don’t care to, you don’t have to stand for it. While it can be difficult to change an entire office or team culture, you can certainly change how a single person interacts with you. For example, if someone is repeatedly trying to engage you in chat discussions (vs. in person or phone), you always have the option to call them or ask them to stop by for an in-person chat. Give it a try!