Earlier this year I had one of those rewind moments when I was not being mindful and lived to regret it. I was merrily, but hastily, chopping firewood and managed to part with the end of my left thumb. The painful result was a trip to A&E, and quite a long time with my thumb wrapped in a dressing while the doctors made sure there was no infection. It also made my job a little more difficult. Typing with one mummified digit made responses to customers slow and mistake-ridden and I was worried that the enforced brevity of my messages might be construed as tonally grumpy.
I started to prefer picking up the phone and having conversations with people rather than typing out answers and the extraordinary result was that people started telling me about their accidents with sharp objects. This made me feel a lot better, I was beginning to believe I should not be left alone with anything sharper than a spoon.
These conversations made me think of the way email can disconnect us. I could have slogged on, tapping out responses and frustrating both myself and my clients, but by picking up the phone and explaining the problem, I connected on a whole new level. I am not denying that email is a wonderfully efficient way of getting things done, but just like wielding an axe, we need to be mindful of how and when we use tools.
Our family recently unearthed a collection of postcards written to our great grandparents in the early part of the 20th Century. In those days, if you were planning to meet up in town, you could write a postcard the day before and be guaranteed that the recipient would get it in time to make it to the meeting. The telephone was considered a very scary contraption and few people owned one.
The whole world is now turned on its head with the telephone being a better way of communicating when there is a chance that your written words might be misinterpreted. I am sure there were letters that were misinterpreted when they were the chief form of communication, but probably not as much as the written word is today. In those days people learned the art of letter writing and they were very carefully crafted.
Being mindful in an electronic age
Perhaps it is the immediacy and availability of electronic communication in all its forms that has made us forget that our words have an impact and are available to a very wide audience with a very longer after-life. Writing a letter and then addressing an envelope is a considered act, but replying to all, or picking the wrong email address in a hurry or mouthing off on social media, can be the career equivalent of chopping firewood in haste… painful and debilitating.
Being mindful of other people’s strengths and weaknesses, their foibles and missing parts, and then being mindful of how we deal with them, helps smooth the path of communication in the workplace. It helps breakdown the barriers that divide supplier and client, manager and employee and help us move to a better place of understanding. Using the right tools for the job is certainly a key consideration. Using an electronic medium to gather and collate information which provided powerful insights, as we do with our 360s, would not have been possible in the past. But, like the past, the written word is always greatly enhanced by good face to face feedback and conversations.
While I would very much, like to rewind that moment with the axe and snatch my thumb away in time, I would not like to rewind the resultant conversations. So I guess, I will have to just sit here, giving myself a slightly odd thumbs up.