Workplace Communications: Strive to be Boring!
By: Geoffrey Tumlin, author of Stop Talking, Start Communicating (McGraw Hill, 2013)
Excitement is the temptress of the digital age. Left behind -- widely derided and profoundly unappreciated -- is the temptress’s frumpy and dull stepsister of routine, simple, and unadorned communication.
It’s hard for many of us to imagine something more out of step with the digital era than anything boring. Excitement, novelty, and intensity are wired into the digital age. Showy new devices hit the market constantly.
Communicating in a Virtual World
Companies compete to get their sleek, attractive digital communication tools into customers’ hands, rolling their products out at splashy, attention-grabbing events. CEOs of tech companies are treated like celebrities, and the best devices and apps are referred to as cool, hip, and sexy.
That expectation of excitement has crept into our interpersonal communication. We mistakenly embrace the notion that communication should be as flashy, stimulating, and entertaining as the sleek devices that facilitate it.
Our interactions should bring something new and improved to the relationship; a situation should resolve itself with a clever line and a witty summary; laughter and inspiration should accompany our text messages; and great news should fill our inboxes.
But expecting our communication to be consistently exciting is unrealistic and unsustainable. Exciting, high-intensity conversations are notoriously failure prone.
Exciting conversations frequently fail because high emotional intensity signals our inner Neanderthal that something’s going on, and this puts our quick-acting, club-swinging instincts on high alert. Consequently, escalation happens faster and is more severe during high-intensity conversations.
It also takes an enormous amount of energy to maintain an intense conversation. Think back to interactions that have left you physically drained, like an emergency discussion about a serious work problem, an argument with a colleague, or a critical sales meeting.
Those high-intensity conversations consumed a great deal of energy and probably required you to take a recovery break afterward.
Dial It Down to Heighten the Impact
Most people can’t -- and shouldn’t -- maintain high-intensity conversations for long periods of time, because as the cognitive load of the discussion saps our energy and depletes our willpower, our restraint is weakened and damaging words are more likely to slip out.
On the other hand, routine interpersonal communication is sustainable day after day. We build bonds with our coworkers and clients as we work through regular processes and issues; we develop trust with our bosses over a series of mostly unremarkable interactions; and we build our families, marriages, and friendships in the regular interactions that, over time, shape, sustain, and strengthen our relationships.
It’s not really excitement and intensity that we want from our conversations; we want bosses, coworkers, family, and friends we can count on. And they want the same from us. Relationships are built through thousands of routine and unremarkable interactions. That’s how people come to trust us and see that we’re consistent.
Boring is dependable. Bland is steady. Over time, what seems unremarkable turns out to be quite remarkable after all.
From Stop Talking, Start Communicating by Geoffrey Tumlin, reprinted with permission from McGraw-Hill. Copyright 2013.
Geoffrey Tumlin is CEO of Mouthpeace Consulting LLC, a communication consulting company, and president of On-Demand Leadership, a leadership development company. A portion of the author’s royalties will be donated to Critical Skills Nonprofit, a 501©(3) public charity founded by the author to provide communication and leadership skills training to chronically underserved populations.