Build trust and improve results by striking a balance between high-tech and high-touch communication.
I recently heard an interesting story about hiring a new associate and the importance of workplace relationships. The interviewer asked the candidate what he knew about technology, and he responded he was on Facebook and LinkedIn. Unimpressed, the interviewer followed up and asked why his social media presence was a good reason to hire him as a sales representative. The candidate smiled and responded, “Not only do you get my great technology skills, you get my 1,000 relationships for your business.”
But are these technology connections really relationships? And are face-to-face conversations no longer effective?
The ability to successfully leverage relationships in today’s automated workplace is a blend of traditional and new communication skills. We need to understand and apply technology to realize the many benefits it provides to an efficient workplace. On the other hand, we need to build relationships with others to develop trust to get the job done. The bottom line is: we will need new skills to communicate effectively to be at the intersection of high-tech and high-touch, or we risk being left behind.
So what exactly is high-tech/high-touch? John Naisbitt, the bestselling author of Megatrends, has studied the impacts of technology on human behavior. His book, High Tech/High Touch: Technology and our Search for Meaning, focuses on how technology was designed to free us from routine work, but the unanticipated consequence is that we have developed a form of co-dependency. We wake up and fall to sleep with our smartphones by our side, often oblivious to those around us. Some would say we have become “high-tech/no-touch.” I believe the answer to this problem lies in a new communication approach—a 21st century skill to increase our personal effectiveness.
The concept of high-tech/high-touch makes sense, but we need practical solutions for a workplace pressed by timelines and the bottom line. Think of the decisions we make every day in communicating with others. Send an email or pick up the phone? Do I really need to develop a relationship with someone in everything I do? I am paid to deliver results, not relationships—isn’t using technology more efficient?
Last month, I received an email that asked why an individual was leaving a certain organization. This was news to me. My first instinct was to reply and say, “I don’t know,” and perhaps engage in speculation as to the reason for his departure. Sound familiar? But my speculation would have set off a series of responses, and probably would have attracted a larger audience. Instead, I picked up the phone and called the departed individual to see what his plans were. We had a great conversation, and my response to the original email was focused on his next steps—not his reason for departing. I chose the relationship and believe that was the effective solution, but was it efficient? Can we really spend our valuable time on investing in relationships when the return on investment is unclear?
Technology is so seductive, and we all relish the opportunity to quickly empty our inbox without realizing the humanity behind the messages. Emails and texting are simple, quick and inexpensive, and they provide an archive. In some cases, all you need is a quick message to communicate information with no need for input. These examples are short-term, transactional relationships. Many types of administrative tasks, such as setting/confirming appointments, requests for technical information, etc., are included in this category, for which technology is a very effective communication tool.
High-touch relationships are all about trust, critical to a high-performing work environment. While we aspire to be collaborative, the reality is that our workplaces are often very competitive. To build trust, you need human interaction, which will require more time, emotion and risk. However, managing your connections effectively will ease the way for future interactions.
Keys to Connecting
With that payoff in mind, here are three tips to successfully connect with business associates:
- Select your communication medium (social media, email, phone, face-to-face), using the following guiding principles:
- Technology: Efficiency, information, short-term
- Relationships: Effectiveness, trust, long-term
- Decide what you need to accomplish and apply the best approach. Your communication channel is the means to your desired end.
- Identify unconditional vs. conditional relationships. Your unconditional relationships represent those who are with you through good times and bad. Invest in these individuals through interaction on a regular basis. Conditional relationships are dependent on your success. You also need to recognize those who support you when it’s convenient, but may not have your best interests in mind when challenges appear. You might call these individuals “fair-weather friends,” and we often confuse them with unconditional allies. Your role is to identify these individuals and move them to unconditional supporters by building trust through human contact.
- Sustain your connections. Relationships require nurturing, and you need to incorporate tools to sustain key connections. For example, take a look at your inbox and calendar over the past 30 days. If these communication tools are full of things instead of people, you may be out of balance. Set up recurring phone calls or personal visits every few months with key people in your inner circle. Also, return emails from key contacts with a phone call, or even in person if it is possible. Remember, trust is the key to long-term success—not zeroing out your inbox.
In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell says, “He'd had to make his way alone, and no one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone.” We need others to be successful in life, and communicating effectively in our changing environment is critical. Understand the decision-making process for high-tech and high-touch communications, and be aware of how you get results. Your reward for intentionally leveraging your workplace relationships is increased trust, results and the career you deserve. iBi