Connection matters: Technology, communication and connection
COVID-19 is forcing us to adopt the technologies that some of us have successfully avoided up to this point. Even those who are comfortable with technology acknowledge the tactile differences between in-person and virtual meetings. A few task force members with whom I often work have resolutely refused to learn new platforms. They insist that documents be attached to emails as Word documents. I’m happy to do it. I understand their frustration with the learning curve and idiosyncrasies of each new “app.” COVID-19 is not so flexible. Some of those task force members have now been directed to pack up necessary items from their brick-and-mortar offices and work or deliver classes remotely.
In this surreal time, how do we use technology to connect and collaborate with one another? How do we view technology as a tool to enhance communication and productivity while acknowledging that there is no substitute for human touch?
In 2013, I enrolled in a transformational life coach certificate course at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. When it came time to apply our new skills, my cohort and I discovered that we would be coaching some of our clients virtually. Having grown up as the daughter of a psychiatric social worker who worked face-to-face with her clients and their families, I was skeptical. Isn’t it common knowledge that only 7 percent of communication is verbal? More specifically, according to
Professor Emeritus of Psychology Albert Mehrabian at the University of California, Los Angeles, 55 percent of non-verbal communication is made up of body language while 38 percent is conveyed through tone of voice.
By experiencing the online coaching process and, subsequently, through work with task forces using teleconference platforms, I came to appreciate the effectiveness of virtual delivery. Though I often use audio only, I have learned to pick up signals other than “body language.” As noted in my last article, I have learned to read the silences. If I don’t know the reason for a silence, I ask. My attunement and sensitivity to the pace, tone, inflection and choice of words have increased.
So has my willingness to ask when I need more information.
My most effective teams excel because we share a safe space, an environment in which each member is encouraged to express their thoughts. Our approach is governed by two rules: (1) No apologies. We’re glad each member is here and contributing; and (2) Feel free. Without communication, we have nothing and can go nowhere. It is those fleeting and seemingly insignificant thoughts, when expressed, that often add the most value.
In these teams, we begin with a shared vision, develop relationships and communicate without hesitation due to fear of judgment or reprisal. Our shared vision provides a common goal and strategic approach, which makes the individual steps more apparent. The relationships lead to accountability and support. Communication breeds trust. To these components, we add persistence and resilience. To collaborate, especially in these times, we use shared documents such as those provided by Google or Microsoft Teams. Are we effective because of technology or despite it? All I know is that we succeed when we each decide that the goal is worth it when we commit to the vision and to one another.
Because of the pandemic, many of NIGP’s instructors who previously taught face-to-face classes have stepped up and volunteered to deliver these classes virtually, even with no prior experience. I’m heartened at how each of these instructors has found ways to personalize the online experience. When class sizes are small enough, microphones are left open and discussion is possible. Instructors are still able to share stories and ask if the concepts are clear. Students can ask for clarification or repetition, as needed. Regular breaks are provided for students to detach from their monitors and clear their minds. During these breaks, attendees connect and vent about life with the pandemic. We find ways to connect and empathize.
Technology may seem sterile, but the communication we conduct through it need not exclude compassion. Right now, I’m listening to an online class. Between lessons, attendees share breaking news of an extension for tax filings and of newly announced state lockdowns. For students in those states, the talk turns to the need to do food shopping. The class then resumes review of the core competencies needed to be effective public procurement professionals, the front line that will execute the purchases needed to confront the pandemic.
In addition to connecting with colleagues and continuing our work and professional development, we use technology, particularly now, to keep in touch with family and friends. Some of this technology includes video as well as audio. In former times, we would drive or walk over to visit our loved ones. Today, we connect through Skype, Zoom or old-fashioned landlines. Let us be grateful for technology and recognize that it can be used according to our perception of it. I prefer to use technology to connect, to commiserate and to cooperate. What is your view of technology? How will you use it to achieve your goals?
Lisa Frank is NIGP’s Global Practices Manager. She collaborates with public procurement practitioners and academics to conduct research and develop useful guidance on public procurement topics.