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There's a Time to Text and a Time to Talk

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Use your tongue...and not just your pointer!

So many people are hiding these days behind their devices, using efficiency and speed as just one of the many excuses to avoid direct communication. Just because we can communicate 24/7/365 doesn't mean we should.

I just heard (on the radio...you know that thing in the car that speaks to you when you're not on your cell phone?) that typing with all 10 fingers may soon become a lost art, as touch screens replace keyboards. (For those of you manual typewriter fans like me, you can read the history of the keyboard here.)

Call me old fashioned, but in both my professional and personal life I am touched and wowed when someone takes the time to write me a personal note (the kind that goes in the mail) or picks up the phone to call me. Sadly, that doesn't happen often enough. Frequently I see couples of all ages sitting across the table from each other in restaurants, staring at their tiny screens instead of at their dining partners. And, in business, I sometimes feel compelled to interrupt a lengthy back-and-forth email discussion by picking up the phone and attempting to resolve an issue by speaking, with the added benefit of inflection and live discussion. What a concept!

I don't purport to be the Emily Post* of digital etiquette, but the following are times when some form of more intimate and potentially interactive communication may be preferable to their smart phone or tablet equivalent:
  1. When you are job hunting. Candidates who take the time to call or send thank you notes can stand out from the crowd and may be remembered in a sea of applicants.
  2. When you have something nice to say. One of my colleagues recently told me that my phone call was one of the only personal wishes she received on her birthday. Everyone else just wrote on her Facebook wall.
  3. When you have bad news to deliver. No one likes to fire a vendor, cut a budget, re-direct a project, or break up with a girlfriend/boyfriend. But typing is the coward's way out.
  4. When you have to ask a question that may require a complex answer or are working through a challenge that begs some discussion. You may feel you are "bothering" or saving time with someone by calling him or her, but expecting him to write a long and descriptive response to a question may be just as bothersome and time-consuming.
  5. If two parties disagree or need to come to consensus on an issue. You don't want to risk the misinterpretation of words on a screen. Texts and emails have no inflection. And no emoticon can replace the sound of laughter or a smile or wink. (LOL is not a real sound.)

I love technology as much as the next guy (or woman). I own multiple devices and I carry them with me at all times (or, at most times...I've recently taken to leaving my work smart phone at home when I go out socially and I leave all my devices downstairs in the kitchen, lest I awaken in the middle of the night and feel compelled to check emails.)

However, when I reflect back on the last 10 years since I have grown my own business, hiring (and sometimes firing) staff and vendors, innovating and collaborating, my best and longest-lasting relationships have involved some level of one-on-one "live" voice communication -- phone, Skype, and yes, even face-to-face.

Nine of our fingers may soon become unnecessary in the business world, but I hope that tongues, larynxes, handshakes and eye contact do not go the way of the manual typewriter.

And please...when you go out on that Saturday night dinner date...stare longingly at your potential lover, not at your screen!

*For those of you who did not grow up in the 1960s, Emily Post was not the originator of the Facebook or blog post. She was an American writer, famous for giving tips about etiquette.

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