Smartphones inhabit an essential place in our daily lives.

We call them “smart” because they allow us to do everything except talk to each other. That’s a problem.

We use smartphones to write emails, play games, text memos, order pizza, and get directions. Right now I’m listening to Rascal Flatts through earphones jammed in both ears to drown out the noise of jet engines (and chatty fellow travelers). These technological marvels have nearly eliminated the reason for a phone: to talk to another human being.

Healthy Human Relationships

Author and psychoanalyst Sharon Turkle chronicles how the smartphone has dramatically shifted the core element of society: human relationships.1 Turkle encapsulates the problem as one of losing both the desire and even the ability to talk to each other. People are avoiding conversations in favor of texting or email. While these forms of communication can be more convenient, there is a dangerous downside. Turkle writes,

Human relationships are messy and demanding. When we clean them up with technology, we move from conversation to the efficiencies of mere connection (author’s emphasis). I fear we forget the difference.”

The ubiquitous presence of tablets and smartphones negatively impacts the workplace in numerous ways. First, employees tend to turn on their screens and put on earphones to block out the rest of the world. But worse yet, colleagues often use texts and emails to communicate information that has potential for stress and interpersonal tension, resulting in strained relationships. In one organization, employees developed a habit of sending nasty emails or texts to colleagues on Friday afternoon. Of course, these “shots over the bow” ruined many weekends. This behavior deteriorated relationships and infected the overall organizational culture.

I am not anti-technology.

On the contrary, my iPhone has become more of an appendage than a device for me. But let’s get people in the workplace to start using technology appropriately. For example, email and text are great to relay facts and data, but are poor technologies for negotiating or dealing with interpersonal conflict.

To receive a chart that matches communication needs with appropriate communication technology, email me at rick[at]freedomtolead.net.

More to the point, leaders need to get people talking to each other again. This “low-tech” communication approach is still a key to healthy human relationships.

1Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation, Penquin Press, 2015.

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