Oh the Humanity!

By Jason Menard

Three hours – 40 e-mails. And that’s a quiet day. Anyone else think that’s excessive? Anyone else feel that cubicle-dwellers are just putting up more walls around themselves by trading expediency for human contact?

It’s not a new concept, it’s not a new idea, but our compartmentalized lives are negating the delicate art of human interaction. In fact, in the office environment I work, I can go days without knowing whether or not co-workers that share the same immediate office space as I are even here!

But whose fault is that? Is it a product of some faceless, omnipotent bureaucratic force – or is it the fact that I get so self-absorbed in myself and my work that I don’t make an effort to walk the 20 feet to see who’s there?

We’re only human, so it’s normal that we look to blame someone, or something, else for our trials and tribulations. However, this loss of human contact can’t be blamed on e-mails, Instant Messaging, or the telephone – the blame lies squarely at our own two feet. And it’s time for us to deal with it.

E-mail conversations are increasingly replacing simple chats as the preferred method of doing business. As opposed to actually GOING to someone’s desk and addressing an issue face to face, we e-mail a conversation. But, like long-distance chess, the end result may be the same, but the time between commencement and conclusion can be interminable.

I’ve had e-mail discussions that have lasted all day, when in reality the simple act of picking up the phone and calling someone – or, perish the thought, actually getting up and talking to them face-to-face – would have rendered the entire discussion complete within a couple of minutes.

But today’s employee measures efficiency not in the time it takes to complete a task, but in the number of tasks that they’re able to juggle at any one time. Multi-tasking is simply a fact of life in today’s hectic business environment, so the idea of dedicating a block of time to one topic – and only one! – is anathema to many people. By keeping their butts firmly ensconced in their chair, they’re able to have access to a wide range of activities. However, by walking away from the desk – cutting the electronic umbilical cord, if you will – we find ourselves lost and alone, disconnected from the so-called lifelines that have become so much a part of us.

Remaining sedentary, in the business world, can often be perceived as being productive. And getting up, walking around, and talking face-to-face with people can be perceived by others as a lack of commitment, wasting time, or – to put it bluntly in biz-speak – having too-familiar relations with a member of the canis familiaris species.

Let’s not vilify e-mail completely. Let’s acknowledge that e-mail has the power to bring people closer together and has completely revitalized the lost art of letter-writing (however, it appears to have not brought back a commensurate resurrection of grammar and spelling proficiency). I keep in touch with friends and family living in far-off places much easier than before the advent of electronic communications. Firing off an e-mail, and even attaching a few pictures, is a cheap, easy, and almost-immediate way for people to keep in touch.

But in the business world we have to prioritize networking, communications, and social interaction. Getting up to talk about an issue with a co-worker isn’t just socially rewarding – it’s expedient, productive, and effective. Importantly, it positively impacts the bottom line.

Tone, subtlety, sarcasm, humour, innuendo – all can get lost in the process of e-mailing someone. Real feelings can be hurt by virtual world, and often these are caused by a misrepresentation of the written word reflecting off a cold, emotionless screen. You don’t get that ambiguity to the same extent in face-to-face communications.

In the end, no matter what business you’re in, your end product’s target is human. So why don’t we involve more humanity in the process? E-mail is a tool, that’s it – it shouldn’t be the whole tool box. And I’d rather have a face-to-face with a repairman than a hammer any day – it’s a whole lot less painful.

The next time you go to send an e-mail, consider whether a more personal approach may serve you better. After all, we’re only human, right?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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