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Is speed killing our communication skills?


Are speed and technology destroying business communication? Quite possibly, according to John Freeman, author of ‘Shrinking the World’.

“Employees communicating at break-neck speed make mistakes. They forget, cross boundaries that exist for a reason, make sloppy errors, offend clients, spread rumours and gossip that would never travel through offline channels, work well past the point at which their contributions are helpful, burn out and break down and then have trouble shutting down and recuperating.”

Before you sigh in exasperation and dismiss Freeman as some kind of technophobe, think again. Why are we all so addicted to speed? Why do we think that fast is better and why do we so often mistake speed for efficiency in the workplace? Freeman advocates reducing the quantity and focusing on the quality of our communications. “Email is good for many things… but we need to learn to use it far more sparingly, with far less dependency, if we are to gain control of our lives.”

Frankly, I’m with Freeman. I admit that in a bid to control my overflowing inbox, I’ve sometimes been guilty of replying too hastily. Not necessarily doing anything overtly damaging, it’s more that I’ve missed opportunities – to consider my answer fully before responding, to express myself exactly and ultimately to build relationships.

There’s a lot of talk about being present these days, but we rarely hear it in relation to technology. I would say most of us could benefit from being more present in our jobs. If we want to use technology to communicate properly, then we should slow down and give ourselves time to reflect before we hit ‘reply’, let alone ‘send’.

Freeman applies his hypothesis to our personal as well as professional lives. “… we need to uncouple our idea of progress from speed, separate the idea of speed from efficiency, pause and step back enough to realise that efficiency may be good for business and government but does not always lead to mindfulness and sustainable, rewarding relationships.”

He has a point. But in the modern world, the line between our professional and personal selves has become blurred. Social networking has contributed to the blurring and our personal lives have in many cases become public property, although not always by our own choice.

Freeman is leading the backlash. “It’s time to launch a manifesto for a slow communication movement, a push back against the machines and the forces that encourage us to remain connected to them.”

“We are on this planet for a short time, and reacting to demands on our time by simply speeding up has cancelled out many benefits of the internet, which is one of the most fabulous inventions conceived.”

Couldn’t agree more, John. And I’m officially declaring next month Slovember – sign up today (if you can spare the time…).

John Freeman’s new book ‘Shrinking the World’ is published by Text on 26 October.

persephone-nicholas_profile-pic_140wPersephone Nicholas is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Weekend Australian newspaper. She is particularly interested in career and workplace issues and also writes about travel and lifestyle.