I can’t recall when it first happened: neighbor kids would gather to play football on our front lawn, next they lounged in bean bag chairs playing XBox Football games side by side, now they play video games against each other on devices block, towns and even states away. They can talk over headsets …but they aren’t together. They can’t jab or wrestle with each other and cannot grab a snack together. It’s quieter and less rambunctious, yet makes my heart a little sad for the joking around that is missing. Can the same be said about businesses? Did your company’s open training floors give way to cube-farms and doors on offices? Has the sound of your office environment become more of tapping and tweeting than ringing and speaking? In many corporate environments, the phones barely ring anymore, yet emails and text swirl and beep incessantly, demanding our immediate response.
We’ve become a faceless society.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many areas I love how technology has allowed our society to be more efficient and productive. Unlike me, computers can work around the clock, not get bored and do the menial tasks many humans prefer not to perform. Probably like you, my smart phone is my control center for music, pictures, group planning, signing up for a workout class, ordering a coffee, scheduling a haircut, directions, you know…most of my day to day interactions! When tempted to do a technology-fast, I am reminded of all parts of my day that will be impacted. But the efficiency that results from teaching Artificial Intelligence (AI) “smart” computers to think for us, also prevents the civility and creativity that comes when humans interact face to face.
I’ve seen first-hand text and email messages that ignite a response that the author didn’t intend, responses I didn’t intend in my haste. As my sweet, angelic children are entering teenage years, we are also hearing about the mean notes that are much easier to send under the cloak of cyberspace. An innocent example of this occurred a summer ago when my family traveled to Washington D.C. We contacted our state Senator’s office to schedule a visit to the White House. Days before departing, the passes arrived, but they were assigned for a time slot prior to our landing. I reached out to our contact Tory, who emailed me a number of a White House contact, who then redirected me back to Tory, who emailed me a second number…you get the point. The final insult, “Sorry, there is nothing we can do”. When we landed, I sweetly contacted Tory again, hoping for a cancellation. Same answer, “Sorry, there is nothing we can do, enjoy your weekend.” I understood that she was following protocol, yet I was really frustrated, my kids were disappointed and overall it is an inefficient process. This doesn’t happen at Disney World. You sign up for a fast pass on the days you are actually in the Magic Kingdom and that’s what you receive. Interestingly, the next morning when we met Tory to pick up our Senate gallery passes, she bent over backwards with offers to take pictures in our Senator’s office, additional tickets and underground adventures around the capital that she hadn’t offered prior.
So, what made the difference?
Face to face interactions. Think about it, the benefit of “being present” or “not being distant” are the exact reason why these interactions are important! I bet you’ve had an experience that’s easier to brush-off someone over text or e-mail. Anyone who has ever solicited a donation, a silent auction items, an additional vacation day or sold Boy-scout popcorn, knows that people have a more difficult time saying no when you are standing in front of them making the request. This is why Facetime, Skype and Facebook Live are having a revival in their popularity – society wants to “see” each other again. We are kinder and more understanding when we spend time together.
“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time
with them, and it will change your life forever.” Amy Poehler, American Actress
In sales, this means driving the extra miles to have face to face opportunity calls. This is why you have a greater probability of a price increase being accepted and of winning your proposals when you deliver your ideas in person (sadly many of us had to learn this lesson after there are emailing proposals that then fall into the black vortex of cyberspace).
This is why team building is always better when you do an activity together (like painting a habitat for humanity house, and talking to the family moving in) or have a meal together, from pasta dinners before track meets or corporate work teams gathering to solve a client situation. Time together allows vetting a handful of ideas, where everyone gets a voice and a vote.
When you are side by side painting or eating, you can pick up on body language cues, from crossed arms and the slightly subtle face touching. You can tell which topics are more engaging and when you’ve lost their interest. You can dive deeper in areas they are being responsive to, and back off where you see hesitation or dislike. In person interactions provide for greater creativity and collaboration. You are no longer a name or a voice. You automatically learn new intel on your teammates and friends, which allows you to begin building relationships. I hope you agree with the benefits. The pendulum is beginning to retracting and corporations are trying to flip this phenomenon by creating inviting break rooms, converting conference rooms into casual brainstorming activities and encouraging google chats. I encourage you to push for these changes, because managing a successful team requires personal connections, regardless of the sports field, classroom or conference room.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Helen Keller