Communication and the immediacy expectation: is patience the only answer?

The advent of the internet and, by extension, smart phones has seen the way we communicate become quicker and quicker. Everyone has, it would seem, as a minimum, a phone which they can receive a SMS message. The vast majority of people have a phone that is internet enabled and receive email as well on their phones or tablets.

Add this high level of connectivity to the plethora of means by which we also communicate by social media and the urge, nay the need, to communicate with immediacy has become ever more in recent times.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my smart phone and love the fact that I can communicate where ever I am no matter the time or day or the night. That said, I am bothered by these issues that flow from this communication availability:

1. All too often misunderstandings seem to arise when one does not answer a text, email or tweet immediately. I am sure everyone reading this blog has been in a situation where they have received, for example, a text but they have not immediately answered because you are focused on something else and then you receive a second text asking “Are you ignoring me?” or worse the person on the other end gets angry without any rational basis.

2. Particularly in the context of communications for business the urge to respond immediately often seems to lead to the sending of communications without thinking about the effect of the reply being sent or, worse, without checking that what one is saying is correct. Unfortunately, the expectation that email is a communication form that is read upon being sent leads to a further expectation that a response is going to be sent immediately. That pressure to reply can lead to mistakes.

Recent situations in both categories in my own life have gotten me thinking about how best to deal with the immediacy expectation that vests from the way we communicate in 2014. The following approaches I have jettisoned either because they are rude, unwieldy or they play right in to the hands of the immediacy expectation:

1. Setting up a rule in my phone / email accounts that everytime I receive an email or a text message an automated reply is sent acknowledging receipt and noting that I will reply as soon as I am able to.

2. Ignoring an email / text message until I receive a follow up email, text or call about the first email / text message.

3. Sending an email / text / social media message to every one of my contacts every day advising of my likely availability to reply to their communications on that particular day.

None of these strategies are all that palatable are they? Nor are they workable in my view.

Having considered all of these options I kept coming back to a central premise: we all (I should say I have been guilty of wondering and worrying about a delayed reply as much as the next person too) could just be a little bit more patient when it comes to communicating.

It is hard to believe but it is true that not 25 years ago very few people had mobile phones, the use of email was not prevalent and social media networks did not exist. Letters and calls to the fixed telephone were the only broadly available means of communicating. I am sure in those times people did not spend anywhere near as much time wondering if they were going to get a reply soon as we do now. Why? Because the nature of the communication methods available required an inherent level of patience.

Surely the application of a similar level of patience today in communications as that which was the norm 25 years ago is the way to avoid all of the issues that come from the immediacy expectation.

Maybe this is too simplistic an approach but it is one I am going to try. The next time you have the urge to send a message that says “Did you get my last message? or “Are you ignoring me?” maybe being patient could work for you too. I hope it works for me!

A comment on golf etiquette … it is really simple!

I played golf with clients today around one of the two entirely public courses in Brisbane: St Lucia Links. I will see right off the bat that the golf course was in good condition, the pace of play was not slow and we had a great afternoon.

A couple of things though stood out during the round that, again at this public course, are not only total against golfing etiquette but again lead to a discussion in our playing group as to whether we will return to St Lucia to play.

Yet again today I witnessed groups of more than four players playing together.  Indeed we witnessed during the course of our round two groups of 8 players playing together.  That is right: two groups of 8 players.  Now I get that it was Friday afternoon and these guys had probably taken an early mark at the end of a long week but it really is just rude, let alone against the etiquette of golf, to delay the play by playing this way.

Also today, and again not for the first time at St Lucia, I hit a ball into a bunker and it rested in the heart of a large footprint. How hard can it be to rake the bunker? That is just standard golf etiquette.

I concede that I am taking my chances by playing at a publicly accessible course and that the conduct outlined above would simple not be accepted at a closed membership course.  Still I would have thought that if you are intending to have a round of golf you would at least know the general etiquette of the game.

I would hate to get to a point where before a round of golf the players, particularly on a public course, need to receive a short lesson in etiquette before they go out for a round but I suspect that, at least at St Lucia Golf Links we are not far off.

I will be back to St Lucia: I enjoy the course.  That said I think I will be choosing a tee time that is before 7am in the morning.  I base this on the theory that only golfers who follow the rules will be playing at said time.

If you are reading this as you scout for a place to play golf in Brisbane I would suggest that if you looking for round where the etiquette of the game is followed then St Lucia Golf Links should probably be given a miss by you.

6 hours without my phone: fear and then liberation

I drove to Mooloolaba on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast this afternoon for a lunch with some friends and 15 minutes away from home I realised that I had left my iPhone on the kitchen bench on the charger.

It was the first time in as long as I can remember that I had left home without a mobile phone of some description and I am ashamed to admit that I freaked out a little bit. No contact with people other than those I was with, no texting, no twitter, no checking in on foursquare and no email. This was the prospect I was facing in the car as I pondered turning it around and returning home to get my phone.

Ultimately, as I had people waiting for me and I abhor being late, I decided to press on with my journey and not return to my home to pick up my phone.

During the drive my reflex of checking my phone every 10 minutes did not kick in: I was focusing on driving and I am aware of the laws that require me to not check my phone as I drive. However, I am again embarrassed to admit that for the first 30 odd minutes after I arrived my hand often went to the pocket in which I normally rest my phone when I am not using it only to find that it was not there.

At this point I was sitting there thinking: “wow mate, you have a problem!”. After a while though I stopped moving to check my phone and actually engaged fulsomely in the conversation that was going on at the table as we ate and then afterwards as we sat at the Wharf Bar watching the boats go by and chatting.

Suddenly it dawned on me: I was loving not having my phone with me. The only people who knew where I was at the time were my parents who I had spoken to in the morning and told them I was heading up the coast and the 3 people I was with. And it felt brilliant! More to the point I concede that not having my phone on me meant that I was not checking my phone whilst others were talking to me and thus was not being what I have come to realise is obviously rude.

I know that this is probably a weird thing for a 35 year old person to be confessing too: a. I have a phone addiction and b. I never realised I was being so rude. It felt liberating to not have my phone on me and it also felt embarrassing to realise what I had been doing to people who previously had been dining / talking / drinking with me when I was rudely ignoring them whilst checking my phone mid meal / conversation.

I am going to do more to make sure I am not being so rude in the future and I look forward to again “forgetting” my phone soon!

When did saying “thank you” become such a difficult thing?

It seems like many of my blogs of recent times have been a bit ranty, indeed I have been on such a rant recently about various things that I should change my name to “Ranty McRant”. Unfortunately (and I know there are eyes rolling and mouses hovering over the backspace button as I write this) this is another of those blogs.

One of the things that has been bugging me a lot recently is the loss of the ability of people to simply say “thank you” for a job well done. I am not talking about in my day to day job: I work in a great job for a great firm for some great clients. What I am talking about is what I perceive as a loss of the ability of people to actually thank each other and be thankful for the things that others do for them.

In restaurants it bugs me to my core when people I am eating with or people at the tables close to me fail to recognise the work that their waiter or waitress does FOR THEM in the filling their glass and bringing their food. How hard is it to say “thank you” when you receive a bread roll or when your chair is pushed in for you? Simply, it is not hard! More to the point it is bad manners of the worst order.

However it is not just in restaurants where I have noticed this issue though: even today I have seen people let other people of the train first, someone open a door for another person and someone ask another person if they needed assistance and at no time did the person / people receiving the benefit of such conduct say a simple “thank you”.

It is just me? Am I surrounded by the rudest people on the face of the planet 24/7? I know that the resounding answer to that question is no. I work with and associate with some of the kindest people in the world and my observations save in one example noted above relate to the conduct of complete strangers. More to the point though these examples of conduct I have seen today are not the only examples I have. I could write a treatise on the examples of this sort of conduct I have seen in the last few years that have formed part of the rant that is the basis of this blog.

What strikes me in my daily interactions with people and my observations of the interactions of strangers is, in the most part, that those interactions are shorter, less cordial and not replete with statements of thanks than they used to be. I think there is a strong argument that the introduction of email and other electronic means as the most regular method of communication between people in place of the phone or face to face interaction has lead to the interactions of people when they are forced to interact face to face becoming less courteous than they used to be.

I am more than happy to be proved wrong on this but I can remember a time before email and other electronic forms of communication when it would be the overwhelming exception rather than the rule when someone would not thank another person for doing something for them however innocuous. Electronic means of communication have to have played a part in the changing demographic I have noted above in my view. It is impersonal for a start and in the most part the messages are short and the messages sent are not ones that give rise to acclamation or thanks. SMS, email, tweets and other forms of electronic messaging are all designed to make the conversation you are having with someone quicker and simpler and shorter.

Now I concede that the pace with which we all live our everyday lives has swiftened to a point that sometimes it is difficult to know what relaxing actually feels like. However is that a reason to be discourteous to each other? I certainly am of the view that it is not. The conundrum is that I am sure that the persons I have adverted to in the examples above are not rude people necessarily rather they have been so ingrained with the habits that electronic forms of communication create that the courtesy that would be considered normal to show has been lost by them.

That being the case and noting the obvious that electronic communication is here to stay, I have no simple solution to this problem. I sincerely hope we do not get to a point in society where saying thank you to people becomes a quaint after thought of a bygone era like, for example, standing when a lady joined a table of diners. Then again I wonder if we are not already there?

All I know is that I am going to continue to say thank you to everyone who assists me throughout a day and continue to be as courteous as I can be. I just hope I am not already being a quaint relic in doing so.