A few months ago I made a list of what I believe to be the fundamental skills every professional communicator should have in order to succeed. It’s a good list, but now I feel that I left out a skill that’s not only crucial for communicators, but for people in all walks of life: Social interaction. In real life. Not online.
A few things caused me to realize the importance of social interaction as a business and personal skill.
One was a holiday conversation with members of my family, some of whom have Facebook pages and use them regularly and some of whom do not. One of my sisters questioned the value of Facebook and said, “I don’t have the time for it. I’m busy enough trying to keep up with my life as it is.” As a regular Facebook user, I pointed out that it helps me manage my friendships and adds a certain depth to them that I otherwise would not experience.
But I have to admit that it would be very easy to slip into what author and “lifetyle expert” Judith Wright calls a “soft addiction” to Facebook — or Twitter or e-mail or any other electronic media, for that matter. An interesting article by Melissa Ruggieri in Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch looked at this phenomenon. She quotes Wright as saying a soft addiction is a seemingly harmless activity that negatively affects the way we live.
So if you find yourself constantly checking Facebook, Twitter or e-mail or if you feel anxious when you can’t do so, you might have a soft addiction to them. If your participation in social media — or in any other activity — keeps you from developing and nurturing real-life, face-to-face relationships with friends and family, then things might just be a bit out of hand.
Another holiday conversation brought this point back to the communication profession. In a much-too-rare visit with my mentor and best friend Les Potter, our talk turned to the future communicators he teaches in the Department of Mass Communication & Communication Studies at Towson University. Les continuously reinforces the importance of “face time” and the interpersonal social skills that his students will need when they join the workforce — even as they use social media tools in their profession. Nothing replaces real-life interaction for quality of communication. Body language, tone of voice and human warmth simply cannot be replicated online.
Les also bemoaned his experience at last year’s IABC World Conference — not because the program lacked quality, but because the hallway conversations, the impromptu discussions at the hotel lobby bar and the camaraderie that once were highlights of the annual event were missing. “Everyone was buried in their cell phones, texting and tweeting,” Les said. “People didn’t pay attention to the other people around them. I felt invisible.”
Anyone who knows Les knows that he doesn’t require constant attention or validation. But who can blame him for feeling walled out of his professional colleagues’ electronic worlds?
I believe social media have great value in the new communication landscape. They are changing the way business is transacted and they are changing the way we communicators do our jobs. They offer many benefits in terms of creating niche communities and bringing far-flung people together. I love keeping in touch with family, friends and business colleagues through social media.
However, I fear the art of social interaction is being lost as a result of too much reliance on social media. And I believe instructors of the next generation of communicators — and of business people in general — and stewards of our profession have an obligation to ensure social interaction skills don’t silently fade away.
Filed under: Back to the Basics, IABC, Lessons From Life, Social Media | Tagged: Facebook, Judith Wright, Les Potter, Melissa Ruggieri, Richmond Times-Dispatch, social interaction, Social Media, social skills, soft addiction, Towson University, Twitter |