I recently completed reading Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle. Sherry’s position is that the classic, face-to-face conversation is critical to our personal development and communication, but we are dangerously close to abandoning conversation for the lure of digital efficiency and control.

This is part 3/4, see all the parts below:

  1. Personal Development
  2. Family Development
  3. Professional Development
  4. The Illusion of Multitasking Development

Some highlights which particularly resonated with me:

Professional development

Our tendency to choose an inferior tool (text or chat over face-to-face conversation) for a task, because it gives us a feeling of control:

But what I’ve found is that once people have texting, chat, and email available, they stick with them even when they suspect that these are not the right tools for the job. Why? They are convenient. They make us feel in control.

On privacy and focus in the workplace:

The top performers “overwhelmingly worked for companies that gave their workers the most privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments, and freedom from interruption.”

On the challenges of managing staff of the “social generation”:

As she talks about them, she is arguably describing the kinds of workers the Holbrooke students will become: These young people are not used to working on their own on a project. In the past, if you think of employees . . . who are now in their forties, fifties, sixties . . . if you gave them a project, they thought it was their job to do it. Alone. Now, people can’t be alone. They need continual contact and support and reinforcement. They want to know they are doing well. Left on their own to do their work, they feel truly bereft. They are always connected to each other online, but as I listen to their supervisors, they also need more support than before. They need a different kind of management.

The pitfalls of multitasking:

When you train your brain to multitask as your basic approach—when you embrace hyper attention—you won’t be able to focus even when you want to. So, you’re going to have trouble sitting and listening to your children tell you about their day at school. You’re going to have trouble at work sitting in a meeting and listening to your colleagues. Their narrative will seem painfully slow.

Our warped concept of “productivity”:

“We think of productivity as . . . sitting in front of the computer and banging out emails, scheduling things; and that’s what makes us productive. But it’s not.” What makes you productive is “your interactions with other people—you know, you give them new ideas, you get new ideas from them; and . . . if you even make five people a little bit more productive every day, those conversations are worth it.”

The illusion of “real work” (busywork):

Supported by the impression that this is when they are doing their “real work,” many employees feel justified in avoiding face-to-face conversation. And because they avoid it, they don’t understand what it can accomplish.

How technology gives us the impression of control while diminishing our interpersonal connections:

Hassoun craves control more than sociability. She will email a “Sorry” instead of delivering a face-to-face apology; at work, as in her personal life, when she faces a difficult conversation, she makes every effort to sidestep it with an email. The difficult, even if necessary, conversations take time she says she doesn’t have. And they demand emotional exposure. Hassoun sees emotional exposure as stress she doesn’t have to subject herself to.

An organization needs to really commit to prioritizing conversation. Lip service to conversation while pressuring for results produces no benefits:

But it is at HeartTech that I learn the limitations of “build it and they will come.” Despite the right architecture and vision statement, at HeartTech, no one has time for much open-ended conversation—or people don’t believe they have permission to take the time.

The role of senior management in shaping company culture:

If you think conversation is important for your organization, you can’t just say so or design beautiful kitchens and cafeterias to facilitate it. You have to leave time and space. Most of all, senior management has to model it, leading by daily example. If not, the beautiful spaces simply become amenities. And new employees who start conversations will wonder if they should apologize.

The role of managers in modeling desired behavior in employees:

Champion conversation in the day-to-day. The moment needs mentors with humility, acknowledging that just as parents model the behavior (texting during dinner) they then criticize in their children, managers often model the behavior they criticize in their employees.

The tension between engineering problems and interpersonal problems:

A human resources officer at a high-tech firm tells me: “The catchphrase among my peers is that ‘engineers will not deliver difficult conversations.’”…

The downside of telecommuting / remote work:

People require eye contact for emotional stability and social fluency. A lack of eye contact is associated with depression, isolation, and the development of antisocial traits such as exhibiting callousness. And the more we develop these psychological problems, the more we shy away from eye contact.
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