Leadership Mistakes

You're Texting so Loudly I Can't Hear What You're Saying

Denise Ryan asked:

Vail Carter with the Centralina Workforce Development Board shared with me the results of a survey of over 330 firms in North Carolina. One of the items asked about current skills needs. Number one was communication and interpersonal skills. (Second was leadership and third was customer service—and let’s face it, success in these areas requires good communication and interpersonal skills!) With all the electronic methods of communication, many younger people need a refresher course on face-to-face communication. They’ve forgotten (or maybe never knew) the importance of eye contact and body language. And it’s not just the young people. I’ve found that most customer service people need a reminder of this. Managers, think about it—a little eye roll here, a little talking on the cell phone while supposedly serving customers there, – next thing you know, your customers are going somewhere else. Can you afford that?

Don’t make the mistake of assuming your employees are good communicators. Just because you trained them on what to say doesn’t mean they know how to say it. There’s a mighty fine line between efficient and rude. Caring is what people want.

What kind of things do your people need to know about communication? They need to really understand body language, especially making eye contact (with the other person, not their Blackberry). Apparently people think they can just sneak a peek at their electronic device and no one will notice. Are they insane? Everyone notices—we have these crazy things called eyeballs that are drawn to furtive movements (and blatant rudeness).

They need to know how crucial facial expression is and how quickly other people can interpret theirs. Do you want to lose customers because one of your new employees rolls her eyes and sighs whenever she has to operate the cash register?

Something many companies need to examine (or maybe need to develop) are their e-mail policies. What is considered an appropriate response time? You might find that administrative people think it’s an hour while outside sales people think it’s a day. How should the subject line (the most important part of an e-mail) be used? And enough with the reply to all already!

Do your employees need presentation skills? Don’t assume they have them. Texting your friends all day does little to develop that skill set. Your employees represent your company, if their communication and interpersonal skills are weak, how can they possibly do a good job?

And here’s an important question to ask yourself—do you reward good communication skills? Let’s face it, if I don’t talk on my cell phone at work and I am treated the same as a co-worker who does nothing but talk on her cell phone all day, why shouldn’t I start calling my friends? If, unlike my co-workers, I pay attention and don’t spend all my time texting during the meeting, but no one cares, why bother? Here’s the bottom line—don’t assume anything. Decide what communication skills your people need, get them the corresponding training, reward good performance and coach poor performance. And make sure you maintain eye contact when you do it.


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