By Suzanne Rotondo and Paul Thallner
A couple of hours before dinner, my friend Roya posted her whereabouts on Facebook, and I saw it on my mobile phone. That’s how I knew she was making her way into town. We proceeded to exchange texts, forward tweets of reviews, and share photos of restaurants and meals we could enjoy that night…with some comic relief thrown in for good measure. The plans were evolving in real time.
Meanwhile, I texted my other friend Dave to find out where he was and get his input on the restaurant choice. Dave is an avid texter and emailer, but he’s not on Facebook. Like Alex, he’s in his mid-thirties and is super tech-savvy. After the third rapid fire text I sent him, I see “Dave” on my mobile – a call! “Hi, it’s me,” he says. “This is getting ridiculous, so I thought I’d just call. It’s so much easier.” I detected the irritation in his voice and it got me thinking: Maybe this doesn’t really work for him. The third member I needed to coordinate with to round out our foursome for dinner was Alex. So started the next round of texts. No response. I sent an email, no response. Finally, in sheer desperation, I called her. Alex is not on Facebook, and only answers her phone when she feels like it. When I reached her through another friend’s mobile (I texted him to see if Alex with him), Alex reluctantly got on the phone.
“Hey. I was going to call you in a little bit,” she said.
“We’re meeting in less than an hour, I wanted to make sure you knew where we were going to be.”
“OK, OK, no worries. You know, life did happen before cell phones, before texting and before Facebook. We’d find each other.”
“Umm, I know. So, maybe you could’ve checked in last night then, like we used to, for old time’s sake?”
“Suzanne, I knew you’d go looking for me, and see, you found me. See you soon, love you.”
Is she a hater? Is Dave a closet hater? I wondered.
So at dinner I brought it up and learned from Dave that he felt the staccato texts depersonalized the friendly experience he was looking forward to for dinner, a relief from the non-stop demands as a Communications Director. He prefers more engaged communication with friends and he really was irritated with the texts—he much prefers a short call which he claims would be faster and clearer. His sentiment: Text are for postscripts, not for the main conversation. Alex, bless her heart, simply aims to stay above the fray entirely, and seems to think that a phone call placed just so, is the ticket to the least amount of technological interruption.
Ah, I see. Moral of the story: just as with any form of communication, texting/emailing/tweeting has to be attuned to the person with whom you are interacting. Otherwise, I learned, it can trigger a negative emotional response (like Dave’s). The less mindful among us might write off Alex, even Dave, as a modern day Luddite – an entitled Hater who needs time-consuming, old-school communication—like live voice over the telephone. For me, the Roya/Dave/Alex contrast helped me see that I need to be as mindful in my digital communication as I do when I’m face to face.
So, this is for Alex (and Dave): An open letter to my beloved friends (or random confirmed haters)—written in complete sentences—to help you understand me, my phone, and our relationship. May we meet in the middle.
Dear Alex (and Dave),
When I only have a minute between meetings or as I’m waiting for my daughter after school, I’m not really in a position to call you and have a full-on conversation. You know how it is—one topic leads to another, life’s important issues come to the surface, the stuff from which good friendships are made. But before you know it, I have to interrupt with, “I’m so sorry…I was just calling to say hi, I have to run. I really want to continue this conversation soon, though, ok?” And we all know that kind of pathetic ending counteracts the joy of connecting in the first place.
With email or texting, though, I can send a short or long thought, taking the exact amount of time I have to connect in the way I can manage. It has opened up so many new opportunities for me to share snippets of info, quick updates on work issues, follow-up with clients, or simply telling a friend or family member, “I’m thinking of you.”
Facebook and Twitter have turbo-charged this phenomenon and expanded it to new and unexpected realms. Facebook has made it possible to connect with FAR more people in the last year than I have in the last decade, to the precise extent I—and they—want. Some I will NEVER speak to in person or see, but we share something in common, and being connected—even loosely—feels good. I can send articles I know they’d love to read, share in moments of their lives that matter to them, feel good on their behalf, and encourage them when the feeling moves me. No need to jump into weekly calls or monthly visits with the family, just a friendly and familiar connection that adds to the spice of life.
Plus, there is the other side of the coin. I learn about things I would never have seen or laughed about or known to appreciate unless someone I know (and trust) tweeted about it or posted it online. People I trust politically point me to important commentary or world events that matter and tie in to my life purpose. Other people who share my sense of humor post videos or clever snippets that completely brighten my day and serve as a reminder that life doesn’t always have to be taken so seriously. I get to cheer from the sidelines for people making a difference as they build wells for clean water around the world, help fight TB, or simply run a 5k in honor of someone they loved. All of those things matter to me and social media makes it possible to support them and connect in a way that wasn’t possible a few years ago.
Finally, Alex (and Dave), I truly believe Twitter it has helped me become a better friend, colleague and coach. How? I have sent links to articles to my friends all over the world that relate to specific topics of import to them, just when they needed it most. For friends: innovations in holistic cancer treatments for their dogs, recipes for one friend’s nascent youtube idea: “Cooking with Jesus,” and fresh perspectives on why overachievers are leading us toward the brink of disaster as a planet. For colleagues and coachees, I have found blogs on current issues in a particular sector as it pertains to stress and burnout, or a study that will help explain a certain organizational phenomenon, or an idea for new ways to explain how people change (or don’t) and why. The list is endless.
So here’s my commitment to you, Alex and Dave—I will follow these tips.
3 Tips to Appease the Haters
1) Be Mindful. I will appropriately filter messages before sending them along. I’ll do my best not to bombard you with lots of random tidbits and transfer the responsibility of figuring them out onto you. I will use direct F2F or V2V (voice to voice) communication as needed and try my best to exercise good judgment about what “needed” means. They will be sent to augment, not serve as a substitute for, personal contact.
2) Keep It Meaningful. I resolve to be clear about why I am sending what I’m sending. I will work hard to ensure that the messages I send create positive sentiment and speak to something you actually care about.
3) Make It Manageable. I’ll be empathetic. I promise to be flexible with my social media behavior. I’ll meet you where you are ready to be met, Alex and Dave. I understand that you are on a journey, and I respect that.
IRL (In Real Life),
P.S. YMMV. Your Mileage May Vary. What’s true in my experience could differ from yours—but try these anyway and let me know. BOL!
Authors: Suzanne Rotondo, Executive Director and Paul Thallner, consultant, Teleos Leadership Institute, Philadelphia. Find them at www.teleosleaders.com, Twitter: TeleosLeaders; FB: Teleos Leadership Institute, LinkedIn: Teleos Leadership Institute.