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Guest

Tough Talks and Technology Don’t Mix

By: Guest | March 1, 2012 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by Alan Cohen.

Earlier this month, The Today Show spent a good portion of their program discussing Facebook parent Tommy Jordan shooting his daughter’s laptop on YouTube.

No doubt, years of family therapy are ahead for the Jordans.

Meanwhile, at a client’s agency, two PR pros who work in close proximity to each other simply chose to unfriend each other on Facebook rather than work out their differences.

The avoidance monster is demonstrated in the terse email sent from boss to employee with a veiled threat of termination. It’s in the breakup text sent by a guy to his girlfriend or his status change to “single,” before informing her.

It’s in the movie, Up In the Air, where Natalie Keener’s character (played by Anna Kendrick), a 20-something techno-arrogant overachiever, recommends the company cut costs by conducting firings over remote computer access.

The moral  of these stories: Tough talks, social media, and email rarely  mix. Yet I see it happening more and more.

I’m on a crusade: To get people to talk and connect, and to stop hiding behind technology.

So my questions to you: When is it OK to have a tough talk by email or via social media?

Or rather, because these modes of communication are really not “a talk,” the question really is: “What topics can be addressed using these platforms?”

Sometimes facts, issues, and concerns are too complex, and require in-person discussion and debate to be adequately addressed.

Ask yourself the following tough questions:

  1. Are you in any way dehumanizing each other during this process (either through the correspondence or in your own mind)?
  2. Are you seeing the other person as anything less than a reasonable, rational, and decent person, with a complex life and feelings, just like your own?
  3. Are you copping out or trying to take a shortcut by not engaging the other individual in a face-to-face conversation?

If so, then you need to immediately humanize this person in your eyes. Get on the phone, hear his or her voice, and acknowledge the human factor.

Social media tools are beneficial for a lot of things, but not for a difficult conversation. Email is no different.

I’ve noticed the reluctance to have tough talks is particularly pervasive with PR professionals.

The craft of public relations is about finding, keeping, and building healthy relationships between an organization (or individual) and key groups. PR people are fearless in talking to reporters, editors, community groups, analysts, activists, and all manner of stakeholders about the merits of the company, client, or cause they represent.

But put them in a situation where they need to have a difficult conversation with a client, manager, or employee and many avoid the experience, regardless of the cost. Some will even deceive themselves into thinking the avoidance is really a virtue they call diplomacy or tact.

According to a survey of more than 100 public relations professionals, the top most difficult conversations to have are addressing personality issues (28.7 percent).

One of the main reasons cited by survey respondents for not wanted to address these issues is discomfort in dealing with the emotional issues that may be provoked by a conversation.

So, it makes perfect sense that email and social would win out – these methods reduce the possibility of emotional connection.

No one is born with the tact essential to tackling life’s needed tough talks. Preparing for and engaging in them often requires that we first confront our beliefs about ourselves and those who affect our performance and well-being.

So, as you decide to brave it and have the tough talk, following are a few valuable tips:

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.  Before the talk, know exactly what you want to accomplish and how you plan to get there while remaining open to learning new things. Examine your interpretations, which may not always serve the reality of the situation.
  2. Set the stage before the talk. Ideally, you’ve developed a company culture in which one-on-one talks are not a threatening novelty. Nurture an atmosphere in which staff members aways feel comfortable engaging in frank discussions with colleagues, superiors, and clients. Relationships are made and destroyed one conversation, one tough talk, at a time.
  3. It’s a conversation, not a lecture. No matter how serious the point needs to be made, remember the most successful tough talks are not lectures but give-and-take conversations. So listen—and learn.

Do you have a situation in which you’ve dealt with, or need to deal with, a tough talk?

Alan Cohen, president of Acts of Balance Executive Coaching and Training is a consultant, coach, and executive trainer to public relations professionals and agencies.  He is the author of Tough Talks for PR Pros: How Best to Say What Needs to be Said to Clients, Colleagues and Employees.

 

26 comments
lisagerber
lisagerber

@actsofbalance YOu're right. they aren't. :) Thank YOU!

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

LOVE this post. I plead guilty on often resorting to email (rarely social) in dealing with situations. However, lately, I've come full circle and pick up the phone more and more to deal with the really tough stuff. It's a great reminder of why I work with that particular client or to hear what's going on in their voice or their lives at that moment. You simply can't get that from email or social media interaction.

hessiejones
hessiejones

@ginidietrich @actsofbalance great article Gini. In a lot of ways, technology enables passive-aggressiveness. It's easy to hide behind it!

aliciakan
aliciakan

But using the phone these days to talk is even seen as antiquated! This for me partly explains the anxiety to sort things out on the phone -- we don't know how to use it anymore and email is so much easier, less confrontational and lowers the risk of rejection. Remember the days when you cold-called journalists to pitch a story? Sadly many don't. They always had email to fall back on and can say they never got a reply.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

Four years ago, I had been on a three week business trip, visiting several clients without spending time in the office. Everywhere I went, clients had something negative to say about their experience with my team. By the end of the trip, you can imagine how exasperated I was. So I started sending emails to the team members who were the biggest culprits of unhappy clients, without thinking much about it, other than they needed to know and it needed to be fixed.

 

When I got back to the office, our managing director came into my office, before I'd had the chance to take my coat off. She said, "You can't lob email bombs into the office and expect to come back to high morale." I had NO idea I was doing that. 

 

It wasn't easy, but since then I've learned to be patient and save those hard conversations to have in person.

MadelineHere
MadelineHere

Nice!

 

I agree.  I hate confrontation as much as the next person, well some of the next people anyway. But over the years, as I myself  teach the "Art of Conversation" to others, and of course, try to live life like a good and fully engaged and alert person, I've seen that how you describe giving the "tough talk" is always the best way to go. (For so many many reasons.)

 

So I hope people do listen.  It will make their lives and that of some (many) more people (it has a rippling positive effect) much better.  Really.

 

So I promise to say "I'm sorry" when I screw up and tell you when you're annoying me that you're annoying me. 

 

And to say "Nice" when you nail it.

 

- MadelineHere 

http://MadelineHere.info

 

TheJackB
TheJackB

Why will the Jordans have to go to therapy? The dude used hollow point bullets and spent 15 minutes carefully laying out what his concerns were in response to his daughters complaints.

 

Sounds to me they are a family that communicates well.

 

Now on the other hand I don't want to be telling tales, but ask @Lisa Gerber  what happens when @Gini Dietrich gets cut off while riding her bike. I'd hate to be the motorist that did that. ;)

keithbloemendaal
keithbloemendaal

I say we just all shoot our laptops and go hang with dad....

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

I'll be the first to admit I hate using the phone. But I have stopped myself on a few occasions when I was about to send an email that would be better handled in person. 

 

It certainly defuses the situation because people are far less likely to be vitriolic in person so it's amazing to see them back down when you have a personal discussion. People tend to be nastier online because it's  easy to hide behind that keyboard.

 

AlanCohen
AlanCohen

Just today I had about 5 emails that warranted a phone call.  Trying to really walk the 'tough talk" today!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@hessiejones A few years ago, I banned internal email because my younger staff were NOT using it well. It forced them to talk to one another

AlanCohen
AlanCohen

 @aliciakan So antiquated, yet so refreshing.  I love picking up the phone, going "old school" and reaching out to folks, especially when it seems like there may be an opportunity to clarify misunderstandings and deepen connection.

AlanCohen
AlanCohen

Sounds like that was a great lesson, learned the hard way -- as is the case with the best lessons!

AlanCohen
AlanCohen

 @TheJackB  @Lisa Gerber  @Gini Dietrich I don't know - playing out your family issues for all of cyberspace to witness could be perceived as a violation of privacy, and one that might require some healing in years to come.  All members of the family may want to take some responsibility for avoiding the "tough talks."

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @TheJackB  I'm with you - I don't think they'll need therapy. If anything, the boundaries are VERY clear. My dad wouldn't have been that nice. 

AlanCohen
AlanCohen

 @Lisa Gerber Email is so subject to interpretation -- because it lacks intonation, it can be very misleading.

hessiejones
hessiejones

@ginidietrich I had the same complaint from a coworker who didn't know why I was emailing him when he was 10 feet away #itsjusteasier

Chris_Eh_Young
Chris_Eh_Young

@ginidietrich @hessiejones It's really no different than marketers on Twitter. :-)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@hessiejones It's totally easier. I have no problem with that. Just when they say mean things to one another they wouldn't say in person

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @TheJackB  @AlanCohen  And, from what I understand, he told her, "If you air your grievances on FB one more time, I'm going to put a bullet through your laptop and video it so all your friends can see." When you make a threat like that, and they disobey you, you have to follow through. This wasn't the first time she'd done it. It sounds like the tough talks were had and she kept pushing. 

 

On the same subject, but away from tough talks, I thought it was hilarious that people were commenting that the girl was going to be a hooker or a stripper because of this. Because she no longer had online access, she asked her dad to comment on her behalf. It was, "Is there any other job for a girl whose laptop is shot? Because I really have no intention of being a hooker or stripper."

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ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @TheJackB My dad too! He used to inspect the dishes we washed by hand. If one of them had a speck left on them, we had to redo them all. And people wonder why I'm OCD.

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