Has someone IM’d you recently? I don’t mean someone down the street or in another region, I’m talking about the person sitting next to you. Is every “conversation” you have with your boss on e-mail? Gotten a text condolence note lately? (I did, no kidding, can’t say it was very consoling.) Have one-word answers been elevated from grunting to an acceptable reply? My favorite is the “yup” response to a 20-word question sent from an associate to a higher-ranking executive. This and a number of other perceived efficient means of exchanging information with a colleague, supervisor, or friend is becoming an enormous contributor to the isolation, confusion, and lack of civility going on in the workplace.

Humans are social beings. Depending on your temperament and learning styles, you need either a little, some, or a lot of interaction with others. It’s never none. This is not just for our wellbeing, but taking a more callous view, conversations gets things right more often. I’m sure you have plenty of examples when you wrote one thing and the receiver heard another. This is not impossible with voice but is harder. Have you noticed how easy it is for e-mailers to be mean, crass, and demanding? There is a false courage that not having to look someone in the eye and no immediate feedback gives us.

I understand none of this is news to most of you but we are at a no-turning-back point. We have settled into this new normal. For most of us, e-mail has been around most, if not all, of business career. This is how we operate, yet we have never really examined or devised a protocol as to what is useful, and maybe even proper, and what is downright harmful. We blindly accepted. It just happened.

Please don’t get me wrong (see I am already defending myself for fear you’re not accurately hearing my tone). The way we can communicate now is far superior to any other time in history. We get fast, reliable, and cheap responses, globally. Somehow, our need to “tell” has grown expediently and our quality of communication may have suffered.

Managing people with e-mails addresses tasks and deadlines exceptionally well but what it rarely does is pick up on the nuances of seeing someone, or hearing their reaction. I am much more likely to say, “something up?” when I speak with a client that if I am responding to their text message. A good friend of mine is fond of saying, “good news comes in-person, bad news, and excuses come virtually.” My experience says he’s right.

During a recent training among groups of very smart, savvy, and well-educated professionals, it was shocking how little co-workers knew about one another. I don’t mean what knowledge base they had, I am talking about basic personal traits like preference for groups versus one-on-one, or their preference for plans versus flexible agendas. And these were amicable people, most of whom worked in a reasonably confined space. Can you imagine if they didn’t like one another or were thousands of miles apart? What else wouldn’t be known?

Helping clients develop a professional network is always a struggle. Time, both personal and professional, is limited and meeting with colleagues or strangers can be time consuming. What I have discovered is how limited people’s internal, in-house networking is. If it wasn’t for bathroom breaks and time in the elevator, I’m not sure most of us would see anyone but our closest cubicle mates. Is this smart and more importantly, is it healthy for our psyches or careers?

Here’s the coaching challenge -- chose by looking at your options. Before robotically replying to an e-mailed question, ask yourself, “Would a different form of contact be more effective or efficient?” If your response is “maybe,” I ask you to get out of your chair and try it. Not possible? Pick up the phone and see if someone is on the other end. If your reaction to any other way but text is “no” I‘d think again. Once you’ve gotten back into the groove of using a few options, be strategic about how and when to use them. I intentionally call or even snail mail some things to people because I know it is so unexpected I am guaranteed to get their attention.

Communication is a broad area with a large number of tools. Challenge yourself to use more of them and select rather than default to e-mail. You may be surprised with the results.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.