As I was considering subjects for this month's column, I received an e-mail promoting a seminar on the use of blogs, social networking sites, gated communities, and microsites in consulting. Once again, I was moved to ask myself, "Doesn't anyone talk anymore?"
I wrote about this subject some 10 years ago, back before the emergence of all the social media we have at our fingertips today. Certainly, sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter have opened new channels of communication for us. We can e-mail, text, twitter, tweet, cheep, and peep. But what's happened to the art of conversation—the ability to socially interact with live people?
We have lost our professional courtesy. We don't answer our telephones. We let calls go to voice mail, then decide who we'll talk to and who we'll ignore. Not too many years ago, one of the major reasons for joining organizations like the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals and the Warehousing Education and Research Council was to meet people you could then call or get together with to discuss mutual problems. That doesn't seem to be so much the case anymore.
Several weeks ago, I made 63 telephone calls on behalf of a client. After the first five or six, I realized this was going to be ugly, so I started keeping score. The communication barrier started at the front door of most of the firms I called. Telephones were answered by automated systems that referred me to company directories, which didn't work in several cases. When I finally worked my way through those, I reached voice mail in 48 out of the 63 cases. Most of the people who knew me called back. Most of those who didn't, did not. I can go to Facebook and find out what someone had for dinner last night but can't reach them on the telephone.
What has brought about this change in attitude? Certainly, the economy has had an impact on behavior, as have recession-induced downsizing and the emergence of new technologies. What is disturbing, however, is not all of the managers who behave this way are casualties of the tough economic times. They simply don't want to take the time or choose to use other messaging options.
I couldn't help but recall a conversation I had last month with someone I will call Bob. Bob, apparently having rediscovered his telephone, called and said, "It's been a while, and I just wanted to touch base." Now, I haven't heard from Bob in eight or nine years. Obviously, he is out of work and engaged in a crash program to establish a network.
He might as well forget it. It won't work. Building relationships is a long-term, never-ending project and cannot be accomplished overnight. Nor can it be accomplished, in my opinion, without personal contact. As a provider of services for part of my career, I have often been frustrated by the failure of many supply chain managers to extend the simple courtesy of returning phone calls. This frustration turns to bemusement when the telephone rings and one of these same individuals is now out of work and suddenly my new best friend.
There's an old story about a group of boys who were trying to walk a railroad track but could navigate only a few feet before losing their balance. Finally, two of the boys bet the others they could walk the rail without falling off. Challenged to make good on their boast, they each stepped up on a rail, extended a hand to the other and walked the entire length of the track without difficulty. Over the long run, we will accomplish more by helping each other.
Am I against social media? Absolutely not. It is great for certain things, but let's not lose sight of why God gave us the gift of speech and hearing.