Selling your Relationships Short: Digital Communication

You may be able to get a ton of stuff done. You may be able work completely remotely using communication technologies. You may be able to create relationships without ever having met in person (and I have. Dozens.) But you will always be selling the capability or that relationship short without a healthy dose of face time.

This is something that is incredibly hard for me to admit – because up until recently, I was always a strong believer in digital communication. And unlike “younger” millennials, I actually DO remember times before cell phones [when you had to beg your parents for your own phone line so you could call your friends after school]. About the time that I graduated high school and started college, the iPhone didn’t even exist yet and people still “surfed” the web.

Things evolved rather quickly in the four years I was in college, but being in your late teens when things started to go completely digital was the perfect age to grasp new technology quickly while still remembering what it was like before new it emerged. I am at that age where I know what my parents feel when they talk about playing outside to entertain themselves.

High-tech and digital communication also started moving at lightning speed around the same time that I entered post-collegiate “career” life. The time where your waking hours were now spent with coworkers, not friends, and opportunities to see or speak to friends quickly became harder to figure out among mixed schedules.

We were lucky. In a time where many relationships fell apart, we had this technology that gave you real-time, instant access to a person. Email, text messages and social media started connecting us to our friends at a time where life can cause many of us to disconnect.

 

I was a huge believer that digital communication was “the” way to go. Short emails, short texts, instant accessibility! I understood the value of phone calls and face-to-face meetings for sure, but I relied on digital to accomplish things first. I loved clients who responded to emails in a timely manner for not slowing me down and making me wait until the next call to move forward on a topic. If I was able to accomplish something via Skype even quicker? Even better. Weekly recap calls were just a formality, right?

I drove my career on digital communication and most of my relationships were driven on digital communication. Guys, even my Grandma knows how to text, Instant Message and use FaceTime. I was convinced you could actually create and maintain healthy digital relationships. But it’s not until you force yourself to reflect on the value being added by true face time, that you will completely understand that digital relationships will always have a ceiling. They will always only go so far.

We miss body language cues. Technology allows us to be “deceitful” and literally fake the emotion and authenticity behind what we are saying. It’s easy to mask emotion in writing, it’s almost impossible to mask emotion while staring someone in the eye. It’s imperative to developing a real trust in someone. You can trust in someone’s demeanor through writing and digital communication but your connection is intensified when you are able to truly “feel” someone’s vibe.

We miss tone. I’ve written emails to people where my tone has been misunderstood. I’ve misunderstood people’s tones – miscommunication probability is at an all-time high when communication is digital. Without years of knowing someone’s tone and vocal style, it’s really impossible to understand their tone through written communication. I have to literally work myself out of the bad habit of taking written communication negatively. I’ve jumped to WAY too many conclusions through written communication. If calls are unproductive from a physical work standpoint, they are extremely productive in learning someone’s tone, which can make digital communication more effective in the long-run. Spend time on the phone if the relationship MATTERS.

We miss demeanor. Have you ever heard yourself say to someone, “but you don’t understand, I’m really calm right now?” even if what is coming out of your mouth or fingers, is the complete opposite? We completely miss people’s demeanor and emotion behind what they are saying. I’ve had someone tell me the same exact thing through 3 different types of communication: digital text, via phone and in-person. Simply put, I never understood how much he meant what he said through text and though I understood more via phone, neither compared to how much I really understood when he said the same thing to my face. Demeanor allows us to understand how seriously and personally to take something that is said. Digital communication prohibits a deeper understanding and context of what is said.

We miss personality. I believe this is by far the number one reason why I always had a better connection with those clients I had the opportunity to meet face-to-face. Digital communication is short, efficient and down to business. It is almost impossible for most humans to maintain an efficient, all-business focus in an extended meeting. Let alone an extended 8-hour trade show. Understanding personality, a combination of body language, tone, demeanor and overall vibe of someone is crucial in building connection. My favorite clients were those I could laugh with, bond with but also knew when it was time to focus on the task at hand. Personality lends to overall attraction; attraction leads to getting more done – we do more for the people we like. Doing more equates to being able to really push potential in your relationships.

I am not knocking digital communication. I work in Social Media and Marketing (all communication!), remotely, for clients across the US, everyday. From my bedroom office! When I moved into my first apartment 3000 miles away from my friends and family, I was able to give my Mom, Grandma and Aunt an apartment tour. I have friends I’ve never met before in my life who have watched me grow from a complaining little 14-year old on Livejournal, to a full-blown, career driven 28 year old (who is still blogging to no one, YES.) I dare say they probably know me pretty well. I send my best friend pictures of the food I eat almost daily and I send him a picture every time I pass a new Wendy’s – GOD BLESS DIGITAL COMMUNICATION and its capabilities! Greg can see Wendy’s around the world! But don’t forget that when it comes to meaningful, full-potential relationships with clients, friends and family limiting to only digital communication and even phone conversation is still limiting your relationship somehow. You don’t unlock the full potential of a relationship without making an effort to make in-person QT happen.