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Face. Voice. Email. Text.
Why Your Communication Tools Fail to Communicate

by Michael Duffy, August 2008

“The biggest misconception is that communication has ever occurred."

It’s a common situation in any almost any environment:  You communicate something. You think, quite clearly. The person with whom you’re communicating receives the information. They think, quite clearly. And neither one of you is right. 

Fact is, there is very often a big gap between what is intended and received. The “evolution” of “communications” technology, namely email and (SMS) text messages, is baiting us with apparent connectivity, only to lead us down a path of confusion, frustration and, worst of all, the firm belief that we have actually communicated.

Disclaimer: Communication, even in its purest, face-to-face and focused form, incorporates the imperfections of emotion, situation, distraction and interpretation. So, we’re talking degrees of separation here. The big question is; Are we aware of the limitations of the method of communication we’re using, and do we correct for them?

Perhaps that is beside the point. Perhaps, the whole idea behind these “communication tools” is not to communicate. To distance oneself from the emotional connection and accountability of true communication. Say, for example, you don’t want to deal with a certain person. They ask you to lunch. – Spending actual face-time with a persona non grata.  You think “no thanks, I don’t even want to talk to that person.”  But, you feel like you have to respond. So, you don’t call back, you text.  Neat and tidy, and it can be done on your own time.  You never have to interact with them at all. We used to do this by calling people at 12:30, when we knew they were out to lunch.  But the texting thing is so much cleaner. 

There’s a second, more devious effectiveness to this type of communication. Say we want to test the waters -- try out a situation without laying it on the line.  See whether a client is around.  If a date is available.  Or to see if a certain congressional page is amenable…. without being accountable in the personal sense. Hey, if the message isn’t well received, we can say they misunderstood - after all, this is an imperfect form of communication, right?

It’s certainly lazier. Which maybe is the real point. The communication hierarchy goes something like this: Face. Voice. Email. Text.  Top to bottom, each requires less focused commitment, involves less interactivity and includes fewer of the two core cues of communication:  Facts and feelings.

In any hotel environment, whether it be with a staff of 10 or 1,000, these communication tools are designed to speed the transfer of data and information between teams.  Meeting requests are managed via Outlook; tasks are managed through online scheduling tools.  Very few duties ever require real face-to-face communication any more.  Sadly, more often than not, these tools actually create distance between staffers.  

Communicating simply via electronic means takes the human element out of communication.  You begin to lose track of your co-worker’s quirks, tone and subtleties.  Things that were meant to be funny come off as rude or insensitive.  You start living in a fantasy world of e-communication where most times, written communications are used to cover your own backside or document that you held up your part of the work chain.

A harsh look at reality: 4000+ text message/month plans are now available from most carriers. Email is way more widely used than voicemail.  Face time? That’s reserved for big pitches, crisis situations (-caused by communication misfires, maybe?), and the rare work friend with whom we truly share and communicate. 

To truly succeed on all levels of communication with your co-workers, boss or employees, stop for a minute, get up, walk down the hall and just say hello.  Then listen, truly listen to what they have to say. Real communication takes work, but it helps ensure you won’t find yourself under the gun.


Michael Duffy
The Starmack Group



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