Nigel Purse on why we need more conversation and less technology to improve our workforce
Communication is a defining aspect (quite possibly the defining aspect) of being human. As a social species, we have built almost all that we have today through the power of conversation; coming together as collectives to get things done for the benefit of all.
Through conversation we can draw people in, getting them on-board with projects and motivating them to commit to their work, embrace challenges and contribute the fullness of their talent. T. S. Eliot told us that April is the cruellest month, but that’s clearly a lie. The start of the year is a difficult time for a lot of people across the UK, with the third Monday of January considered so depressing as to earn the name Blue Monday. During this dip in the year, when motivation levels are at their lowest, we need to do all that we can to encourage employees to maintain some enthusiasm, to continue to bring all of their ability and dedication to their work.
History shows us leaders who vary massively in their readiness to engage others through conversation, in their competency and in their style and approach. Whether these leaders easily built productive relationships with others, or ruled with force or from a position of natural power, remaining cold and distant, they were forced to actually talk to those they relied on for their own success.
Telephones, at least, allowed for vocal conversation, maintaining some kind of genuine connection. The explosion of digital communications technology – email, social media and a stunningly diverse range of instant messaging options – has given leaders the opportunity to hide behind their laptops, eliminating the need to build personal relationships in order to get things done.
Effective relationships, though, lie at the heart of effective leadership, and cannot exist without conversation. This is a truth which many of today’s leaders do not acknowledge. Technology may allow for efficiency (excusing us, e.g., from the need to schedule multiple meetings to share and discuss information), but we’re all familiar with the impact of one-way communication for the recipient: we can feel disempowered and disengaged, lacking the inspiration to get involved.
Today’s leaders must resist the temptation to avoid face-to-face interactions. Genuine human conversation doesn’t just increase the effectiveness of a leader, it also gives a deep sense of fulfilment, enhancing our quality of life. Whether you’re a technical expert or a generalist, an introvert or an extrovert, a sales executive or an accountant, you can become a more effective leader by consciously building face to face conversation back into every day of your working life.
Digital communication appeals to the rational part of the brain; it creates the illusion of conversation by allowing us to convey information, but recent neuroscience findings suggest that much of human behaviour is driven by emotion and then rationalised. Technology improves our lives in so many ways that it’s easy to miss the fact that it cannot help us in building deeper, more meaningful and more lasting personal relationships. This relies on physical presence: face-to-face, we sense another’s feelings and perspectives as we’ve evolved to do.
And so we send emails, making a rational argument for a decision or action, forgetting that the recipient cannot help but respond with their emotions as well as their reason.
In many business contexts, we believe that technology has replaced the art of conversation. The efficiency of rational, logical text distracts leaders from a profound truth of human interaction: humans build relationships through trusting, open conversations which involve physical proximity.
The next time you find yourself tapping away at your keyboard, composing an email for your team, ask yourself whether you might gain more by taking the time to schedule one to one meetings with your team members, sitting down and talking through it face to face with your team members to inspire their commitment and engagement. Sometimes face to face conversations are truly impractical, but more often than not we have the opportunity at least to pick up the phone and let others hear our voice instead of relying on our keyboard. Give it a go and you might be pleasantly surprised by the results you can get. After all, the power of conversation has been the determining factor in human success since ancient prehistory.
About the Author: Nigel Purse is the co-author of 5 Conversations, (£14.99, Panoma Press- available to order from Amazon and all good bookshops)