The lost art of conversation Why real communication saves time, money, and hassle
With all the technical possibilities available to us today, you would think that we — both in our private and professional lives — are real professionals when it comes to communication, right? Unfortunately, that’s not right. Let me tell you a little story from my time in Italy. It prompted me to think about the importance of communication in the workplace. At 9:30 every morning, on the impressive Fiat premises in Turin, Giorgio’s greeting echoed throughout the spacious halls: “Buongiorno caffè!” [“Good morning, it’s coffee time!”].
This is when the office doors flew open and the administrative staff from various departments came together for their coffee. The daily ritual was integrated into the workday for many and symbolized more than just a love of Italian coffee. It was a welcome opportunity for lively, personal exchanges across departments and the noise level did get pretty loud. I have never experienced anything like this in Germany. Why? Because we Germans would rather bury ourselves in our digital mailboxes with e-mails.
The art of communicating is a key aspect of success in the modern business world. When I was spending some time in purchasing at Fiat, I realized that the effective exchange of information is a decisive success factor. My colleague Pietro introduced me to my other co-workers, and within ten minutes we had exchanged all the important information within the team — something that is perfectly normal in Italy. But nowadays — especially in Germany — we see most communication in many companies taking place via e-mail or short message services. A great deal is lost in the process.
So, what’s it like in your country? How would you describe it?
The loss in not exchanging information personally
In many companies, I have noticed that employees seem to be increasingly forgetting how to conduct a personal conversation with each other. When I was working as an interim manager in the purchasing department of an industrial company, I noticed a young, highly trained purchaser looking for an answer about the ERP system on the computer. She didn’t bother to speak with her colleagues directly. When I asked her why she didn’t just say something, she replied, “I didn’t want to disturb anyone. I’d rather take a quick look on the Internet.”
Nothing is wrong with checking the computer for information and not constantly interrupting someone’s concentration. This is when I realized that many employees are losing the ability to connect face to face with their colleagues and ask questions. Instead of picking up the phone and having a short conversation to clarify the situation, an endless series of e-mails or chat messages are sent back and forth. As a result, time is wasted and the quality of communication decreases.
E-mail madness: sensible protection or wasted time?
Another phenomenon that I observe in many companies is a literal e-mail security culture. There is a disturbing dependency on electronic mail. They’re sent out without thinking from one desk to another without leaving the office. Then, there are the famous “hedging e-mails,” which are primarily used to painstakingly document each decision to protect yourself in retrospect. I see symptoms of a negative error culture in firms with this practice. Employees try to record every decision and every agreement in writing so that they can refer to it later in case the situation gets tough. This not only has a negative impact on efficiency, but also limits the company’s innovative strength immensely.
Time for some real communication
It’s time to restore the balance between the electronic and the personal exchange of information to create a healthy working environment and a conducive work culture that allows mistakes. We need to bring the importance of real communication back into focus. Instead of producing endless e-mail threads, we need to put on the headset more often and clarify the issue by video call or, even better, personally. Effective communication saves an enormous amount of time and prevents 20 e-mails going back and forth without the problem being solved.
In a time when digital tools are all around us, we mustn’t forget how important the personal exchange of information is. It not only enables greater interaction, but also increases productivity and saves time. Companies need to encourage the development of communication skills and create a culture in which questions are asked and conversations are (and are encouraged to be) held. This ensures that their employees not only communicate, but also do their work.
It’s not about the technology, it’s also about the people and their ability to speak with each other that makes a company successful. So let’s put down the keyboard more often and cultivate the art of communication. It’s the key to a more efficient and successful working environment.
If you’re interested, let’s talk about this subject, on LinkedIn or in an appointment free of charge.
Find additional exciting topics in my book, Purchasing in Transition [Der Einkauf im Wandel] .
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