One of the staple behavioural (or soft) skills courses conducted by any training company or organisation is that of Communication Skills.
The content will focus on areas such as Interpersonal Skills, Dealing with Conflict, Body Language, and a range of other important aspects in communication. Mostly these will focus on traditional ways of communicating. These days we spend a large amount of our time communicating electronically through emails, texting, and social media sites and this is starting to be reflected more in the content of courses.
In the last week articles have been published about lack of control of what’s posted on Social Media (in particular YouTube being unable to keep up with the number of postings) & the impact it’s having on children as they become ‘addicted’ to the technology. In a Qualcomm Survey in 2016 68% of people surveyed have their phones next to the bed at night, with another 16% saying they sleep with it in the same room!
Also in the news was the story from the Hawaiian Islands, where Honolulu has banned texting while crossing the street due to concerns about injuries & deaths from “distracted walking”. Statistics from the US National Safety Council indicate that “distracted walking” accounted for 11,100 injuries between 2000 and 2011. Germany has already started to place ‘traffic lights’ in pavements by the road to attract the attention of mobile phone users before they step out into traffic.
Data from the Pew Internet Research Centre shows that 75 percent of teens own cell phones, 33 percent text more than 100 messages per day, and 11 percent send more than 200 texts per day. We also find out that girls on average send and receive 80 text messages a day, while boys only send and receive 30.
People are even communicating electronically rather than face to face, even when they’re in the same room! I am a ‘people watcher’ who likes to observe human behaviour through their interactions, and have spent many an hour in a Mall coffee shop watching people as they ‘dance around’ each other. I particularly remember a few years ago on a long weekend break in Beirut I went to a coffee shop down in the old part of town. As always, I picked a table that gave me a good view of all the other diners and watched as one young woman walked in, mobile phone in hand busy messaging. She sat down and after a few minutes another young woman walked in, they greeted and then sat down, with both immediately burying their heads in their phones. This repeated itself as a third woman arrived. They then spent the next hour with their heads in their phones, after which one by one they stood up & said their goodbyes.
We are becoming totally obsessed with our mobile phones & only last week a video was circulating on social media which showed a series of people walking but not looking where they’re going, with resultant comedic mishaps. It did however have a serious message, our compulsion to use our phones is removing our ability to put safety first. The video ends with a woman texting while driving, and shows her crashing & rolling the car. The research from the Pew Internet Research Centre also showed that when it comes to driving, one in three teenagers between 16-17 have texted while driving, with 50% admitting to talking on their phone while behind the wheel. Edgar Snyder (a US Law Firm) report that phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year, with 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States being caused by texting and driving, and resulting in 330,000 injuries in US.
When growing up in England there was a social culture of interaction taking place in the local shops, and in the Public Houses. People knew their neighbours, they knew the names of the shop-keepers, people communicated! There was a spirit of community (people older than myself would talk about ‘the Dunkirk spirit’ of us all being in this together).
I grew up in an era where television was new (still in black & white, only 2 channels, and it closed down at night until next morning!). I always remember being woken up on the night of 20 July 1969 by my mother so that my brother, sister, and I could share with her the momentous achievement of man walking on the moon. That moment stayed with me partly because it provoked discussion and excitement for us. We had lots of discussions about what we had seen, and talked about other great moments in history. We communicated.
Nowadays what we see is a lack of excitement (after all we’ve seen it before in many of the TV programmes & films we watch). We may post something on Facebook hoping that our ‘friends’ will ‘Like’ what we shared but where are the discussions and sharing of thoughts and ideas. We prefer to post our opinions (often more polarised) because we feel safe that if people disagree we can just ‘unfriend’ them rather than have an intellectual two-way discussion.
Today has become more about individualism, isolationism, and virtual communication. As a business leader my concern for the future is having people that have the right Interpersonal skills to support my business.
Some may see this as me being old fashioned, and to a point I am, but let’s not ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’! Let’s take the best of both approaches and use the technology to support us not rule us!