How We Show People They Don't Matter

motivational guest speaker funnyChandra showed up 25 minutes late for our lunch date. When asked what happened, she shrugged her shoulders and changed the subject. During our conversation, she tapped away at her BlackBerry, avoided eye contact, cut me off in mid-sentence, and glanced at her watch several times.  Throughout lunch, I got the sinking feeling that I just don't matter to her. This kind of distracted, self absorbed behaviour is increasingly common, unfortunately.
University of Michigan's James Dutton says that 90% of workers polled say lack of respect at work is a big problem, and it's aggressively getting worse. As technology has developed to the point of affordability by the masses, it has frighteningly become master of the masses instead of serving us.  As our communication channels have evolved from written letters to telephone calls to email to texts, our self-investment has declined. Often, instead of crafting what we want to say and how we want to say it, using both tone and word choice to do that, we hurriedly rip off a note or (OMG!) an acronym and an emoticon and believe that we’ve communicated.
There IS no Disconnect.  Disrespectful (and border line rude) behaviours are often characterized by self absorbed, distracted habits, which are much more common today. Dutton's studies suggest that this lack of respect can be directly linked to increasing reliance on technology.  We are increasingly absorbed by our cell phones and gadgets, texting and tweeting and ignoring real conversations and the world around us.  Any conversation we have is riddled with continual distraction. We live in a world of sound bites and images, and we have surrendered our personal time and our personal space to the beeps and rings of technology. The next time you are in a restaurant enjoying a meal, look around you; chances are good that you will be surprised . . . maybe even dismayed . . . by the number of people seated together, but communicating elsewhere via their cell phones. 
Where’s the Pizzazz? Another by-product of our sound bite society is that we no longer have the self-discipline to   .   .   .   wait for it   .   .   .  invest the time to focus on a discussion or debate.  It's increasingly difficult for people to pay attention for long to real live conversation, especially without fancy graphics, sound effects, rewards or emoticons – and this trend appears to be growing with each generation. 
Just Do It!  Factor in the fast paced society around us, and we find that we not only lack the willpower to invest our time in civil discourse but we feel we lack the time necessary to be nice. There’s a growing belief that we need to cut to the chase and get to the bottom line! Even organizational email instructions sometimes include “State the reason for your email, the response you need, and the timeline needed for response. Do not waste the time of the reader with flowery phrasing.” To a frantic workforce, that can sound like “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”  We are being trained to eliminate civilities with speed and brevity, get what we need and move on.  If over 70% of real communication is non-verbal and this is taken away when we communicate digitally, what does that say about our overall communication skills?
We Don’t Need to be Nice to a Device. Technology was also blamed by more than 80% of those surveyed by Insights West as the cause of our growing incivility, making it the No. 2 reason (behind parents not teaching their kids manners) that people think we are becoming less civil to each other (Vancouver Sun, October 2013). More and more, people express themselves through their devices rather than sharing thoughts and feelings with another person face to face.  It seems that many people take far better care of their devices than those around them. 
But now, back to respect.
You can't have a high functioning team that fosters trust without respect. Showing respect to others creates a sense of self dignity that reinforces self worth. When coworkers are less absorbed in themselves, they are free to be more engaged with each other to create a sense of social dignity. Respect empowers, engages and builds trust.  
I think the conversation about technology and how it adversely affects our communication and behaviours is important for all teams. That discussion will pave the way for the next step: to reinforce respectful communication.
In my experience, respect flows from the following behaviours (among others!):
·         Listen to others; it reinforces their worth and sets the expectations
·         Stay available and approachable in conversation (put down the cell phone)
·         Recognize the existence of others with eye contact and a hello
·         When talking with other people, quit typing, tapping and tweeting and look at them
·         Recognize the value of others’ ideas or thoughts; if nothing else, it will make them more receptive to yours
·         Give people the benefit of the doubt and try to understand their perspective
·         Be on time; it shows respect for others
·         Recognize the effort people put in at work. “Good job!” makes a difference.
·         Be fun around others to put them at ease (and make yourself more approachable)
·         Use social graces like please and thank you
Someone recently said listening is not a soft skill – that it is actually very hard. I agree. To really put aside your personal agenda, focus on others’ ideas and recognize the importance of other people takes a lot of conscious effort, but it's worth it!

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