When I was younger, to communicate, ask questions and find answers, you had to physically speak to people, unless both you and the person you wanted to talk to had a phone. I remember all those times that I would ride my BMX bike to my friend’s house, knock the door to see if he was home and if he wanted to hang out. Sometimes my friends were there, and we hung out, other times hey couldn’t or they weren’t even there. I didn’t feel like I wasted time or effort, in these types of activities when it didn’t work out, that was just the way it worked.

I jump forward to now, and the types of conversations I have with my children. I never thought my kids would almost be afraid to make a phone call, or not even have the desire to speak to people. The art of conversation changed to emotionless texting, with instant responses. I find my kids often want to do something with friends, but after texting them, there is no movement from the sofa they are relaxing on. However, they were able to check with everyone and find they didn’t have to move at all, then the boredom kicks in, or the long process of checking all social media and watching weird videos. Maybe parents had it right back when I was a kid, turning a simple act of asking for friends to hang out into a long process where there was no time to be bored.

I am not saying that we should go back to that, or that this instant texting is wrong. What I am saying is that things are rapidly changing in the way we interact with each other and that is defining how we communicate at work.

I have spent most of my work career interacting with people. As a consultant that is how it works, speaking to a room full of people, training and discussing how something should work. In the teams that I work in, we sometimes talk on the phone, maybe video, mostly by email or instant message. It works for me, and I like the ability to choose my social medium for communication. The world has adopted this too, with many platforms, and applications specifically designed for communication. The exciting thing about it all is that the whole premise of social media platforms is to make the world feel smaller, to reduce the connectivity between people. For my family they are fantastic, I can be at home in Virginia, or traveling for work somewhere in the world, and instantly see family or friends, or chat through an application or mobile device. The problem I see now is that with all these avenues available to use, we are in some instances reverting to the past. How many times have you been just a little annoyed when you are busy, and someone is pinging on instant message, texting you, or sending you social media message regularly. We have become a world of instant connectivity and responses; however, we now start to be selective or even avoid social platforms altogether. There are so many articles and blogs now that bestow the virtues of getting rid of a platform or applications to feel free.

I got to thinking about the kind of social person I am. Those that know me, know that I don’t mind chatting, I don’t mind texting, but sometimes a phone call is better. Not really a Facebook person, I do use twitter for work stuff and self-promotion (related to work), and I blog. I find group chats using something like Group Me helpful when planning things such as my upcoming Ragnar Relay race, and I use Skype for Business, sometimes Teams, lots and lots of Slack for instant messaging. Now don’t get me wrong you may think I am some social junky, though that may be true, I did realize a few other things.

  1. I don’t like being hassled on anything – if you send me a message give me a chance to respond in my own time.
  2. I would rather chat on the phone or video. I feel this is more productive also and means I get some human interaction.
  3. I like to choose on my terms when I respond to you.
  4. I tend to stop commenting in platforms such as Slack, Teams or others when the conversation gets out of control.

I am sure, you see these, and can see a bit of yourself in there. Many of us are social, but not too social; we are selectively social. We choose when and how we respond, and ignore other conversations we are not interested in. Almost like the teenager who is asked to clean their bedroom but only hears the “go to your bedroom” part and doesn’t clean at all. I thought more about this, and I noticed that in reality me being social is all about context too. I use social tools and platforms when I need them. I respond to things that I need answers too or need to discuss — gone are the days where I want to be in the know for everything and catch up on thousands of conversations that mean nothing to me at all.

I suppose as I work with companies using tooling for social interactions for business, I now realize more than ever that often as businesses we force tools onto people and say use them it will make things better, when in reality sometimes it does not. I am not saying let’s not use them, and I am saying choose wisely the tools and platforms, and allow people to be people. It is okay to be super Social, just as it is okay to be Selectively Social as well as Contextually Social.

We cannot force people to be either or, we must provide the tools that enable all types of social interaction and encourage them to configure and use as needed. If we continue to force people to work and interact in ways, they are not used to or comfortable it can have the opposite effect.