As we start to wrap up 2020 (thank goodness!) and get ready for 2021, we’re bringing you a two-part series on communication. We hope you enjoy it.
I’ll start with a couple of observations. Last week, I went to the Fayette County clerk’s office at a designated time I had booked online. I found myself in a room with a clerk, showing my proof of identification, applying for a marriage license with my soon-to-be partner in crime. Now, I don’t remember much about the first time I applied for a marriage license, but I do remember that back in 1996, it wasn’t this easy. As we left the clerk’s office, it occurred to me that even the parking meters have changed recently. You now receive a token to leave the parking garage – just another sign of our move toward a cashless society.
Later that day, as it was a Friday and I was wrapping up my week, I found myself sitting in my car rapidly texting my Instacart personal shopper while waiting for my chiropractor to let me know I could enter the office. Even going to the doctor looks very different now – forms are texted for filling out prior to the appointment, and no one sits in a waiting room anymore. (In reality, who misses that?!)
As someone who likes to overcommit myself to everyday tasks and finds that texting does save time, these Covid-induced changes in how we communicate are frustrating for the introvert in me, who misses face-to-face interactions with other human beings. Seems like these days, we never even talk to a real person on the other end of an 800 number anymore. It’s tough to think that we’re heading for a time when email is only used to log complaints when an AI bot couldn’t resolve your issue.
I’m one of those Gen Xers who was raised to believe that, in business, the first “no” meant you’re not talking to the right person, and the second “no” probably meant that person didn’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish. It was all about learning clear, concise communication. We live in a society today where good communication is not only uncommon, it’s undervalued.
Yes, it does seem that, as we move into 2021, one of the many tragedies of Covid will be a fundamental shift away from interpersonal communication. Unlike our office, where our client families can choose to receive appointment reminders via text, phone call or email, it appears that the rest of the world is moving to a model where personal phone calls don’t exist and email is only used to complain. Now, it’s all about texting “yes” to confirm, choosing to participate, or “STOP” to opt out of everything.
At the risk of further dating myself, less than a decade ago, I was the one telling all the new folks in the office that the only way to conduct business was either in person or on the phone (when in-person wasn’t possible), so you can hear the person’s voice and emotions as you communicate. Of course in our business we do still need voice confirmation for trade requests and withdrawals, but in many industries, these kinds of communications are now completely electronic.
While we’re on that topic, don’t even get me started on my kids’ education (or lack thereof) – they’ve lived on Zoom for nearly nine months. While my boys are happy in the familial sense, they’re terrors when it comes to school. They’re not progressing in their studies, but perhaps more importantly, they’re not building their social communication skills. They’re not negotiating dessert trades in the school cafeteria, or working out the recess hierarchy of who goes first on the jungle gym. Conflict resolution starts on the playground, and our kids aren’t learning that.
One thing we’re in grave danger of losing is the ability to use effective personal communication as a teaching tool. I’m seeing a complete breakdown in the development of communication skills, particularly among students of all ages, and recent graduates entering the workforce. Our young folks are being robbed of developing these skills.
Beyond that, think about all the daily chats you’ve missed out on this year, from a daily hello to the mailman, to chats in the grocery store line, to talking to your neighbors over the fence or a backyard beer, or participating in church as a member of your congregation.
I’m fearful that we’re not just a little thicker in the waist after this year. We’ve failed to exercise our communication skills with other people. Covid-19 and the economic shutdown have significantly altered how we interact, and as things start to reopen, it will be interesting to see how our younger generations are affected.
Now, in case you think I’m only seeing the negative, I do want to talk a little about the effect 2020 has had on technology and its userbase. Some things have changed for the better. For years, people joked that when folks retired, they dropped off the face of the earth and stopped learning anything new. One good thing I’ve seen is that our older generations have proved that joke wrong, and shown that they can learn some new tricks. I’ve been amazed my how many 80 and 90-year-olds have learned Zoom and Facetime so they can proactively visit with their kids and grandkids. There’s a whole new set of folks learning to use the smart technology in that smartphone.
In my own day-to-day business, we’ve always had some clients who preferred or needed to take meetings as conference calls, and face-to-face meetings were generally preferred by retirees. For them, it’s a social visit, and we love that. Of course, we have had to greatly limit the number of (socially distanced) in-person meetings we’ve had. Only a handful were necessary due to the technology just not working. I find that impressive.
To wrap up, kudos to all of you for everything you’ve learned and adapted to this year. You’ve been an inspiration to me. Next week, stay tuned for part 2, when we talk about how all of us can work on improving our communication skills in 2021.
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