Thursday, January 28, 2010

Agree to Disagree (In Person)

E-mail has changed the way we communicate. The productivity improvements associated with everyday communication and the transfer of data and information has been a remarkable achievement for civilization. If the future is a race between good innovation and bad innovation - - e-mail clearly represents good innovation.

But e-mail is a perfect example of doing the right thing the wrong way in some cases. Constructive conversations regarding disputes or disagreeable subjects is one of those life's lessons that we are taught to address - - the quicker the better. But many times these disputes and disagreements are handled electronically - - without the context of emotion and feeling. Page after page of back and forth with emotional disconnection reinforcing a spirit of non-cooperation. It is typically easier - - people can make an emotional disconnection from the conversation. They end up typing things that they would never say in person. You don't get the emotional and physical impact your typed words have on someone - - the whole process ends up with a touch of “non-being” in it. The technology reinforces some of our worst characteristics - - a tendency to dislike verbal conversation face to face over difficult subjects. Engineering and engineers have a long track record with ineffective verbal conversation - - you are actually giving us a tool that gets us even further from effective communication on difficult and emotional issues.

The solution is not Emotions - - those graphical representations intended to represent a facial expression and to convey the sort of emotion that plain text does not. Attaching something like on the top row and far right - - probably does not add much to a text conversation on a billing dispute. None of these expressions convey true emotion and feeling - - especially in a world and culture where non-verbal responses and interpretations are critical elements to effective communications. Disagreements and disputes need to be handled in person. Don G. Lents, the chairman of Bryan Cave, the international law firm offers the following advice - - “You should never engage in a disagreement electronically. If you are going to disagree with somebody, you certainly don’t want to do it by e-mail, and if possible you don’t even want to do it by phone. You want to do it face to face.”

E-mail saves time, but being there says more. We will have to see if video conferencing really is “being there” in the context of disputes.

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