Electronic Messaging - A Serial Killer of Business Communications?

by Jenkins, Eva Thursday, July 10, 2008
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We are living in a culture of miscommunication fostered by email, text messages, and IM’s and tolerated by corporate cultures threatens to rob workers of their ability to do business effectively with other human beings.

As a consultant and professional coach, I feel that there are grave repercussions to today’s business communications arena where the need for speed routinely trumps the need for clarity. The main concern is with the imprecision of electronic messaging including email, IM’s, and text messages, and with the far-reaching consequences of allowing what I call “sloppy talk on paper.”

Precise language is an essential part of business success, but it’s under siege and no one seems to be putting up a fight to save it. Technical jargon has already worked to make communications indecipherable to many, and electronic messaging is the newest co-conspirator robbing communications of their clarity.

The Right Language for the Job

I have to acknowledge that useful quick-to-type acronyms such as IMHO and emoticons have their place in casual business e-communication much the same way that the word ‘yeah’ is used in place of ‘yes’ in spoken language. The problem is that today’s workers don’t understand that there is a valuable alternative to the short-hand language of mechanical communication. People forget or were never taught the importance the human language of business.

I would like to emphasize that a very different set of skills are essential to real time, face-to-face situations with supervisors, subordinates, and especially customers. And unfortunately, even workers that do understand the value of a more ‘evolved’ mode of communication may find nowhere to turn within most organizations to learn it. The result has been a catastrophic breakdown in both internal and external communications.

Generally speaking, a large number of employees and executives lack the skills to communicate effectively, and the lack of metrics to measure this ability underscores the lack of a corporate imperative to make good communication a fundamental business priority. There are hundreds of Communication training programs that address this problem in theory, however practically speaking, no one seems to really care or measure the ROI of these types of programs; and businesses are paying a high price for that lack of follow through. Poor communication is essentially the root cause of many of today’s internal and external business problems. I would like to point specifically to ineffectual communications in the customer service arena as a leading cause of lost business and lost revenue.

In addition to external communication problems, internal communications are also killing internal company morale. When co-workers and colleagues do not know how to communicate clearly and effectively with each other, whether it be verbally or in writing, inadequacies in this essential skill set cause many interpersonal issues within the workplace.

Equally troublesome, is the negative impact electronic communications has had on business writing. Poor grammar skills coupled with the good-enough-for-email mentality that's become prevalent in electronic messaging is a prescription for mis-communication on an epic scale.

You hear a lot of talk about how we’re in a 24/7 world where technology allows people to work at any time of the day or night, but the nature of interpersonal communication has deteriorated significantly as people try to meet that round-the-clock demand of the workplace and clarity is what has been sacrificed. In the end, we’re communicating less, not more.