Teleconferences are a necessary part of the business communication mix. But in talking about how technology removes the human touch from business communication, teleconferences are usually implicated.
Teleconferences (conference calls) are notorious for inciting boredom and creating misshaped or mishandled messages. I heard recently about a manager who was in the room with executives while the manager’s direct report was offsite communicating with the group via phone conference. While the direct report got in the weeds with too many details that took too much time, she could not see the facial expressions or sense the nonverbal cues that the executives were sending to move things along. This embarrassed the manager, who finally helped her wrap things up.
Obviously, when electronic communication suppresses nonverbal cues, a communication train wreck could be ahead. A subtle shift in voice tone or inflection can convey an important meaning that is lost on a cell phone connection or conference call. A rigid body posture or facial grimace cannot be observed and addressed. You often won’t even know who your supporters are in a technology-driven presentation because you can’t see their heads nod in agreement!
The lack of human connection in an email, for instance, makes it easier to be perceived as hurtful or too direct. Assumptions about the intent and meaning of your message may run rampant if you cannot engage the communication partner face to face.
So what do we do to manage communication technology so it doesn’t manage us?
Stop and consider which mode of communication is best suited for the message we want to relay. Get up and go to another person’s office. Drive somewhere so you can connect with someone in a personal way. We may, however, find a phone call is best to convey the message. Email or a text may be just the right fit. But what we shouldn’t do is automatically default to electronic communication. When the message calls for it, face-to-face communication is the gold standard!