I drove through Wyoming earlier this month, and for about five hours, my phone got no service. It was a little terrifying, to be honest — on I-80, there are sometimes 30 miles between exits, and if something went wrong, I had no clue how I would get help. I felt completely cut off from the world.
And so I started thinking about the idea of communication. We've all got infinite tools for communication at our disposal, and yet, it's still hard to reach certain people. I've had co-workers who you can tweet at, Facebook, LinkedIn, email and call — and yet, they were impossible to actually get a hold of.
Having these tools is great, but actually being available within a workplace to listen and help when things need solving is what really matters.
Here's the simple truth: Communication starts with making time, not finding tools.
That's not easy for me to say. I love my tools. I will not have my Gchat or my TeuxDeux taken away.
But I'm also reminded that my tools are all about pushing. I push content and ideas and stuff out, and then it comes back at me — twofold.
With all of this stuff coming in and out, there's not a ton of time for actually listening. And I'll quote Alex Trebek directly here: "It's very important in life to know when to shut up."
Amen to that.
There are times to push, and then there are times to be quiet and listen. For those times, you might have to put the tools down.
Don't get me wrong: Some tools actually make collaboration easier. I'm looking at you, Asana and Do and Yammer.
But many of the tools I love most just divide my attention. There's a reason I have to shut down Gmail and Twitter when I really need to work.
For me, the best ideas come from good conversation. The best workplaces start with constant communication.
When you listen to each other, you actually give yourself the chance to collaborate and create new stuff. Isn't that worth prioritizing?
So take time to listen — and take a few minutes today to put down the tools. Put people first instead.
How many ways do you attempt to communicate? I use the phone, email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. That's a lot, and it's probably too much. I should probably cut back — and so should you. Figure out your primary method(s) of communication, and put the rest on the back burner.
Make time for face-to-face: There are excellent ways to make yourself more accessible at work. Keep an open door policy. Hold regular office hours for employees, or just make your way out from behind your desk and talk to people. Listening never hurts.
Originally published Oct 4, 2012 1:00:06 AM, updated July 28 2017