By Richard M. Segal
Aug. 1, 2013
You are at a restaurant and a phone rings loudly at the table next to you. You are hoping that the person either declines it or excuses them self and steps away. No such luck, they take the call! To make matters worse, she has a loud shrill voice and the call is upsetting her. You are learning more than you ever wanted to know about her and her teenage daughter, but you really wish they would take it elsewhere and allow you to enjoy your meal and the quiet discussion you were having.
You are in a face-to-face meeting and your phone indicates you have received a text. When you get a chance, you sneak a peek to see who texted you. It was one of your subordinates who was having a crisis and needs your input. What to do? The client you are with is close to a decision on a large order and you don’t want to lose any momentum. But, your subordinate really needs you now or significant dollars could be lost. You think that the client will not be pleased with you texting - even if you explain the gravity of the situation. You decide to excuse yourself and make a restroom run hoping your client doesn’t think you are putting something ahead of him.
You are in a heated negotiation to close a deal. You are down to the final issue and you offer a compromise via email (after the lunch meeting) including your partner and your client’s subordinate. You get a two-word response via reply all email, “No deal!” It looks like months of effort have gone up in smoke with those two words and your stomach drops. You pick up the phone and call to find out what happened. “We’re good! I just didn’t want everyone getting the email to think I was soft. But, I’m fine with your suggestion and no one needs to know.”
One of your execs has been having difficulty managing a subordinate and has decided with your consent to let them go. The employee in question is on vacation and due to return next week. Your manager decides that it would be ridiculous for the employee to return on Monday just to be terminated, so they decided to send her an email advising that she has been let go and that her personal belongings have been boxed and are ready to be picked up at the reception desk. The employee is livid, not only with the termination, but the method. She forwards the termination email to the whole company with a “FYI - this is the culture of the company you are working for. Glad I won’t be there anymore!”
You have two managers that don’t get along. While you are in one’s office, he receives a text from the other who happens to occupy the office next door. You ask what’s going on and you quickly realize that the two only “speak” when necessary and then only by text or email. It becomes clear to you why so many things just don’t get done.
Somehow we have failed to develop the etiquette that should accompany new technology.
For those of us who remember such things as “party-lines” and “long distance” you may also remember a kinder, gentler world where folks cared about the other end of the line. For those of you who don’t know what a “party-line” is, it was a cost savings program where two or more families shared a hard wired phone line, but the rings were different in each location. Imagine needing to share a line and being polite about your usage. There was a time when a long distance call was real special, and it cost big bucks too! If someone called long distance, “Hurry-up-¦it’s long distance,” was the announcement from the answerer.
By contrast today we get upset if someone isn’t instantly available to us via cell phone - like a dog on a leash. We answer our phones for an unknown caller right in the middle of a face-to-face conversation as if the person we are with doesn’t really matter. Many millennials don’t even bother leaving or listening to voice mail. They just expect a call back, or will return your call even though you left the “Time, date and a detailed message” in order to eliminate the need for the call back.
Beyond the rudeness is the miss communication. While the written word is good communication, it isn’t the best in all cases. Missing expression, tone and body language can lead to gross misinterpretation. In addition, texting and email have developed their own language through anachronisms and new terms - lol.
Perhaps Marshall McLuhan was right - The Medium is the Message. Not only what we say, but also how we choose to say it places clear value on relationships. Face-to-face communication is still the best understood and the most valuable. Email and text discussions lack communication basics and offer a bold lack of privacy-¦just ask Kwame Kilpatrick. It was once said that, “Don’t put it in an email unless it can be published on the front page of the New York Times.”
Where is Dear Abby when we need her? Don’t be rude just because you can be. Be part of a kinder, gentler world that values the table next to you at the restaurant. I know I would appreciate that.
Rick Segal is the principal at Segal Consulting. He holds a certificate in Family Business Advising with a Fellows status from the Family Firm Institute. He is the founder of the Family Business Council and its affiliated Study Group. He can be reached at [email protected] or by visiting www.segalconsulting.biz.