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Geoffrey Tumlin

Five Unrealistic Expectations We Have of Our “Smart”phones and Other Devices (and How to Get Back to Reality)

Advertisements promise that the latest smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other gadgets will put blazing speed at our fingertips, enable us to multitask like an octopus, and ensure that we never miss a thing. Because new technology promises—and does—a lot for us, it’s no surprise that we’ve fallen in love with it. But in our enthusiasm for our new digital communication tools, we’ve lost sight of the people behind the tools.

It’s time to turn that around. Our devices are great, but they can’t do quite as much as we think they can. And in fact, when it comes to communication, people can do much better.

Today really could begin a golden age of communication, but that will happen only if we stop romanticizing the technology and start improving our communication. We need to lower our hopes for our “smart” devices and raise our expectations of each other.

That’s where my new book, Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life, comes in. Full of counterintuitive yet concrete advice, it shows readers how to develop productive communication habits, to improve conversations, and to use our powerful digital devices to bring us closer to our higher-order aspirations.

Here, I share five unrealistic expectations that have emerged during the long honeymoon of the digital communication revolution and outline what we need to do to correct them:

Unrealistic expectation #1: Our new devices have made communication easier. We’ve been lulled into believing that communication is becoming easier because technological advances make it easier to send and receive messages. But because our interactions involve quirky, emotional, and sometimes unpredictable people, we can’t eliminate imperfections from communication. Communication is fundamentally imperfect, and no matter how fancy our devices may become, they’ll never be able to eliminate the errors that occur when people talk.

Unrealistic expectation #2: We successfully communicate each time we hit the “Send” button. Our devices have greatly simplified the sending and receiving of messages, but there’s more to communication than that. Communication doesn’t occur until the other person understands our message, and that’s become the missing link in far too many conversations.

If you think about how we communicate today, you’ll realize that we approach the majority of our exchanges with expediency in mind. But adding an extra step—considering whether or not your message is understood—can make you a much more effective communicator.

Unrealistic expectation #3: Better communication technologies mean better communication. Better communication technology doesn’t lead to better communication, especially when the new tools encourage speed and convenience over thoughtfulness and deliberation.

Our technical capabilities have raced ahead of our actual abilities. Smarter phones don’t guarantee smarter communicators. Better communication happens only when our communication skills improve.

Unrealistic expectation #4: What I want to say is the most important part of communication. With the promise of instant communication whenever we want it and however we want it, self-expression seems to be the king of the Internet age. But meaningful and effective communication is possible only when we consistently place our conversational goals ahead of our conversational impulses. What you want to say is never more important than what you want to accomplish. That’s a lesson that smart communicators never forget.

Unrealistic expectation #5: Communicating to an audience doesn’t require any special consideration. One of the greatest deceptions of the digital age is that sending a message to dozens of people is just as easy as sending a message to one person. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

More people means more perspectives to consider. When we fail to account for these additional viewpoints, we run the risk of talking, texting, or typing right past each other, or worse, upsetting someone with a thoughtless message or a hasty reply.

The digital communication revolution has encouraged us to expect way too much from our digital devices and far too little from each other. The good news is that if we recalibrate our expectations, we’ll be in a much better position to take advantage of the unprecedented opportunities for meaningful connection during the digital age.

About the Author:

Geoffrey Tumlin is the author of Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life (McGraw-Hill, August 2013, ISBN: 978-0-0718130-4-4, $20.00, www.tumlin.com), available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and at www.tumlin.com.

You can learn more about Geoffrey Tumlin at www.tumlin.com, and you can reach him by e-mail at geoff@tumlin.com.


Jennifer Corob's picture
I agree-- there is nothing that can take the place of effective in-person communication, not even the fanciest gadgets. There is so much that can be taken from talking to someone face-to-face: nonverbal cues, facial expressions that truly convey the meaning behind words, and just the satisfaction that comes from being around others. For companies and colleagues to succeed together, they need that in-person communication in order to be truly connected to each other.
Aimée Smith's picture
It's true that we rely far too much on technology to communicate in the workplace, but saying it is one thing and taking action is another. To make a change, a plan needs to be put into place on how our leaders can minimize the use of technology to communicate and facilitate more in-person interaction. It's not going to happen right away, but taking steps to change the problem are a step in the right direction.

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