Winston Churchill said, “The difference between mere management and leadership is communication.” And now the communication skills needed to lead in the Digital Age have changed. In general, communication is a way for people to connect over information, news, feelings, and so forth. But the way in which people connect has evolved, leading to new communication opportunities and challenges.
The things that frequently distract us from reaching a mutual understanding or intended message are referred to as noise: email notifications popping up on your computer screen, your cell phone buzzing with a new text message, or the ping of a Twitter alert. Maybe you get interrupted by a colleague who wants to make small talk. It can be anything that keeps us from listening to the person on the other end of the phone, understanding what the person is saying during a meeting, or putting the correct message on paper for an important project. A study conducted between the University of California, Irvine and Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany shows that the cost of interrupted work is potentially an additional 23 minutes to refocus on what you were just doing. To drown out a lot of the noise and better communicate in the Digital Age, it’s important to follow a few key points and develop a new set of communication skills.
THE SHARING SHIFT
Technology permeates our world with smartphones, tablets, e-book readers, and other resources that enhance transportability and the accessibility to communication mediums. According to Jose Luis Orihuela on Medium.com, there have been a number of paradigm shifts in communication due to the Digital Age. First, messages for general audiences are no longer acceptable, and the shift has been made to user-centric communication. Users have control over the topics they want to hear about, the way they receive their messages, and the platforms in which they view them. And information is no longer communicated one way as people have the ability to share messages interactively without any mediation or editing.
Next, text and basic images are no longer relevant as digitization, data visualization, and multimedia options are available for all forms of communication. Your communication must reflect that by incorporating dynamism to connect with your audiences.
Lastly, and possibly the most important shift for business leaders, we must now communicate data into knowledge. The sharing of information, news, or other reporting data is now in real time and global as opposed to periodic and regionalized. When we communicate, particularly business information, we must be able to tell the story behind the message to increase knowledge.
So, how do we embrace these paradigm shifts and communicate more effectively in the Digital Age? Frank J. Pietrucha of The Washington Post says a smart infographic tells a much better story than a dense paragraph. Engaging the receiver(s) by explaining why the message is important to them and keeping your delivery short and to the point will improve comprehension. Messaging platforms like Skype for Business or Slack also enable rapid communication in an abbreviated fashion as they help team members to be agile and respond quickly without going through the formalities of emails when communicating internally. Similarly, social media platforms improve concise external communication by following character limits that highlight key points with hashtags or key people with the @ symbol.
PUTTING A FACE TO IT
While phone calls and meetings remain relevant and necessary, they should be dynamic and digestible, too. With videoconferencing so easily accessible and transportable thanks to cell phones and tablets, seeing the person you’re speaking with enhances the experience and improves communication.
And the last key tip is, whether the message being communicated in today’s Digital Age is sent through email, text, video call, or social media, the information had better be personalized. Colleagues and customers alike expect instant gratification and want to feel appreciated. Chat bots, social media platforms, and direct messages allow for better engagement through back-and-forth communication with customized responses. Be aware, though, that with this visibility and personalization, you must always be transparent in your communication. Follow through with the message, follow up on outstanding items, and improve your delivery based on the feedback of your receivers.
PROVIDING INTERNAL TOOLS
With many companies going global, individuals working remotely, and work-life balance shifting, it’s paramount that leaders develop a new communication style and integrate these tips in the workplace. User-centered, dynamic, and practical information can be communicated in personalized, engaging, and digestible messages through a variety of business communication trends. Companies like Verizon, Volkswagen, and many others have adopted people-centric social intranet software solutions to create discussion boards, private and public groups, and personalized profiles for their stakeholders—think Facebook or LinkedIn, but for internal purposes. Collaborative digital workspaces and document or screen-sharing applications also enhance communication by increasing agility and fostering more of the engaging dialogue that is sought after, as opposed to long emails with instructions or feedback.
Communication is a vital leadership skill, and the Digital Age has changed the way people communicate. While technology contributes to the noise that often distracts or interrupts people from sending or receiving messages effectively, it can be a great asset for better communication. It’s up to the leaders of the business to go beyond merely managing the technology and rather embrace it to improve communicating in the Digital Age.
IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/career-resources/leadership-academy.