Am I hearing you properly?

Am I hearing you properly?

In today’s world, “virtual” is a good thing. It’s efficient, it saves money, it’s progressive. Not when it comes to communicating, apparently. That was the import of a talk by expert Dr Nick Morgan at an event hosted recently by the MBA Association of Ireland at Masons Hayes & Curran in Dublin.

Author of “Can you hear me? How to connect with people in a virtual world”, Dr Morgan is forthright in implicating the smartphone in the rise in employee disengagement across the world, not least in Ireland. And equally its role in alienating rather than helping old people, as it has been heralded as doing.

Interesting nuggets abound in Morgan’s presentation. Did you know that 90% of us think our emails are understood, when in fact only half are?

Down to basics. The issue with virtual communications is that content and body language need to be aligned for conversation to take place. With no body language there is no real communication.

Similarly, feedback is fundamental to face-to-face communication – in a virtual work, we give out content but we don’t see how it is received. This lack of feedback makes for little connection and little empathy.

Of course, there’s the video-conference. But beware. Our minds don’t work well in 2D  – don’t be fooled into thinking you are seeing the person! The artificial environment of video-conferences is very taxing on our brains, so keep them short and with a minimum  of participants.That said, they are preferable to audio-conferences. Leaving aside Morgan’s insights into what people actually do when they press that mute button, he contends that without emotions, people can’t take decisions and that the lack of involvement in audio-conferences leads to bad decision-making.

Email is the most prevalent form of communication in most workplaces. And it has its problems. For one, Morgan points out that purely using words to describe emotions is not natural and it is emotions that give us the connection that is at the heart of communication. As a result virtual relationships are fragile. They lack the forgiveness that characterises the conventional relationships we enjoy.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Morgan suggests one way to counter this is by using emojis to inject a sense of emotion into the email exchange. “We need to learn a new language” he says.

So how do we get heard in this virtual world? It is imperative that we spend some real time with those we communicate with virtually. Colleges are doing this – while virtual is the MO, projects kick off with face-to-face meetings. That builds trust, familiarity and forgiveness. If you work in a large corporation where virtual communication dominates, take the time to physically meet those you are dealing with online. The effort will enhance your virtual communication.

As many of us know, a big issue is that often young people don’t want this real interaction, they prefer the perceived control and anonymity of the virtual world. I recall asking a journalist as to the best way to land a story in the media. “Pick up the phone!” was his reply. Persuading the new generation to do this instead of sending off an email can be a challenge. Reared as they are on smartphones, they are not easy to lure back to the real world!.