Talking used to be the only way to influence, but even with the plethora of communication methods these days, in my view, it remains by far the best way to influence.
Why, therefore, do so many leaders increasingly rely on email and messaging apps to get things done?
Any leader in a business is naturally hyper-busy, and it at first sight, these methods of communication seem to make sense. For the more mundane organizational tasks, this may well be the case. However, very few messages are without nuance, and this is where a leader’s message can get lost in translation.
The human voice is capable of conveying a message in a tone that even the most imaginative of emoticons can’t replace. The listener tunes into the message behind the message and subconsciously infers a complexity of meaning that no written word can convey.
Just think about reading the following on a WhatsApp message sent from a Sales Director late one evening:
“We’ve lost the client. As expected. Please come in early tomorrow, ok?”
The natural reaction of most people would be to want to pick up the phone to find out how the Sales Director “felt” about it. There is no way that someone can understand the feelings of the writer in relation to the event by just reading the text. Just the two words “as expected” could have been said in a variety of tones – disappointed, resigned, neutral, reassuring, positive, and many other shades in between. There is, of course, the context of the event prior to the message that may help to inform the recipient, but in many cases they will be left in the dark.
They might not sleep so well that night.
On dictionary definition of communication is “the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviours to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else.” In many circumstances, an instant message or a short email will often be inadequate to do this job.
The cult of “productivity” has stopped people talking. You might send 50 messages per day, but if half of them have been misinterpreted, you are going to be spending far longer explaining yourself (or sorting out the consequences) in the long-term. It is not about the speed of sending the message; it is about the speed and accuracy of what you want to get done. Often, a quick phone call or chat at their desk will be far more efficient.
Also, there is the interpersonal aspect.
Every time you talk to someone, you make your relationship that little bit stronger. You are sharing something of yourself, and they will understand you that little bit better next time. A few words on a screen won’t achieve that.
Successful leaders talk because they need to communicate - in the widest sense of the word.