Real human connections remain the most important
In this era of growing technological sophistication, we need to keep reminding ourselves that the most effective type of contact is directly with other people. We tend to forget this amid all the clamor on automation; AI; VR; chatbots; smart assistants; robots; smart speakers; WhatsApp, Slack and other communication apps; social media apps, etc. Many aspects of these innovations are positive and useful, especially with an extended audience. But using tech without sufficient thought tends to drown out the most vital connection of all – the human, face-to-face connection.
Some things remain fundamental, and person-to-person communication will continue to be one of them. Just because the tech is available, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best solution. In fact, in some ways it can be the lazy solution, just as sending an email is easier than phoning or going to someone’s office to speak to them. And just think about the individual privacy problems created by the tech world!
Firms like Belgian PR-software company Prezly understand this issue: “The only way PR would achieve long term success in the digital space was to not lose sight of the one thing that makes PR PR – relationships.” In developing their software, the firm says their “product is going to continue to evolve to reinforce the relationship aspect of PR.”
Employees want more face-to-face contact with their boss
Recent research supports the importance of human communication, even in basic situations. A study of German employees found that “employees preferred to communicate with their leaders via face-to-face as compared to email or phone,” which is no surprise. However, what is surprising is that “employees indicated that they wanted more than they currently have,” despite 60% of leader-subordinate communication already being face-to-face.
The emphasis on digital tools largely overlooks the key human skills needed by professional communicators. For instance, as the World Economic Forum 2018 Future of Jobs report noted, employers will be seeking people with these human skills even more in the next 5 years:
- analytical thinking
- creativity and initiative
- critical thinking and analysis
- complex problem-solving
- leadership and social influence
- reasoning, problem-solving and idea-forming
- trustworthiness and ethical behavior.
We need to generate more of these skillsets. Most of them can be learnt. For instance, creativity and initiative, and analytical thinking can easily be developed, as noted in my web article, “4 naturally easy ways to increase your innovative thinking.” These will be among the central skills to the role of the effective comms pro in the future, according to the WEF survey report mentioned above.
Tech tools are fine, and we certainly need them for marketing comms and for wider PR audiences. But we need the smarts to manage the new tech tools. We need the professional judgment, analytical thinking, problem-solving skills, etc to know how to use them the most effectively. We need the ‘soft’ skills to solve complex problems, apply critical thinking and analysis, use professional judgment, etc to deal with vital organizational matters in the increasingly complex business environment of today, like issue management, risk and crisis communication, change communication, employee recognition, creativity, PR ethics and privacy, stakeholder relations, and reputation, etc.
Illusion of connection
Technology [including digital media] has created the illusion of connection, but unless it is used in the right way it will make people less productive, less engaged, and more lonely, according to Dan Schawbel, author of Back to human: How great leaders create connection in the age of isolation. It was instructive to see how many PR people responded to the issue of workplace loneliness last year.
Significant workplace issues like employee loneliness and team relationships all need human responses that give greater social support to our peers. We need to make our team members feel valued. For example, even small initiatives can help them feel accepted instead of alone, such as offering to go to lunch with a new worker, or celebrating birthdays. Opening a conversation with some praise or finding personal interests in common can help to start a positive relationship. These nudges can steer a workplace in the right direction, creating a healthier, more supportive culture. When workplaces become more supportive, performance and retention improves. Tech tools can’t solve these types of problems.
PR and professional communication are all about human relationships – internal and external. That will never change. People are the decision-makers, and therefore our profession needs to keep a strong focus on strategic thinking, using initiative and being valued as leaders.
Let’s keep foremost in our minds that the human connection is the most important of all!