THE ART OF COMMUNICATION
A TALK FOR WOMEN IN THE COMMUNICATION SECTOR
Today, being a telecoms geek, I was excited to read online the budget speech of the newly appointed Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Minister Siyabonga Cwele. I can’t presume to compare this talk to his speech – and there are some other obvious differences between us – he is a man and I am a woman – but we do now share a common interest in communications.
The art of communication – have we lost it, changed it forever, or do we still have it?
And when I say communication, what do I mean?
Do I mean the sending of abbreviated text messages with smileys to convey what happened to you before or during breakfast, on the way to school or work, or while you are in a meeting but focussing on what you are doing for lunch, dinner or on the weekend?
Do I mean telling everyone how you are feeling at every moment of every day by posting your feelings, photos of yourself and your BFFs on Facebook or tweeting your views on everything whether you know anything about it or not – for everyone to see, and then measuring your self-esteem by counting up the number of friends or followers you have on Facebook or Twitter?
Do I mean shouting at your loved ones, your colleagues, your friends, associates or children because you can’t get through to them in any other way, and because you have no patience, solutions, or respect for any of them, or because you just want to be heard and therefore must be louder than anyone else?
The world of mobile devices has enabled a new world of ways to communicate – applications, Facebook, whats app, BBM, Viber, skype, wechat, google hangouts and chatrooms, snapchat, voxer – I could go on. What very few of these options offer is face to face conversation – the ability to see what your words do to people, to see their faces when you say something nice or criticise something personal, or simply say nothing because you’ve run out of words (which hardly ever happens to women).
Getting ahead in this world of mobile phones means you need to have the latest version, and be on it pretty much all the time – two friends going for coffee usually means two people sitting at the same table talking to other people over a device about something completely different and then saying goodbye.
Women are generally better communicators than men – right? We talk more than men do about more important things – we have more daily words, and we usually use them up. We express our views about the colour of the soccer pitch and what people in the crowd are wearing rather than whether that was a foul or a proper short corner (or is that just me?). We don’t just go to meetings, we also find out about what other people are wearing, where they’ve been in case we haven’t been there, and whether they are married, have kids, and what car they drive. We are interested in the world around us and we post a lot of pictures in scrapbooks that are physical and virtual and we show them to our friends.
Without the mobile phone, the internet, the technology that has been developed over decades, we would not be able to save pictures of food, places, art, haircuts, signboards, men to Instagram and create a whole world of things – a world of dreams, plans, and memories. But there is or should still be an art to communicating. There should be a way that enables you to be heard and that ensures that you listen to and hear other people. If you want to win – if you want to really succeed – you have to make sure you communicate well.
Choose a device and use the device, use all the apps, use all the things that technology gives us freedom to choose from, but make sure what you say means something. If you are trying to make headway in your business or in your sector, like Cell C is trying to make headway in our industry, you have to choose the right words and make sure you are saying them to the right people. It doesn’t help to have the device but only talk to the screen. It certainly doesn’t help to buy into the culture of self-interest.
To really learn to communicate you need to have something to say that people want to hear. I’ve been in meetings with many men – sometimes in fact often, I am the only woman in the meeting. I suppose I’ve chosen a career that is largely favoured by men, and in a sector that is based on engineering, economics and law – all somewhat masculine pursuits. But you don’t have to be limited by the social definition of a particular career – choose what you like and make sure you get to know everything about it and do it well.
Reach out to people who do know and speak to them, ask them for their time, read about the industry, keep aware of what is going on around you – not just in SA but in the world. Make your device your gateway to information and use that information in your daily life.
In the meetings I have sat in – and I’m thinking here about meetings I have been to when I was working in a London law firm – the tea would arrive and everyone would wait for me to pour it. Instead I would die of thirst, but keep asking questions about what I had just heard, and make sure I got the right information. Never disrespect your colleagues but by the same token, not everyone has the right to ongoing respect – they have to earn it to keep it. So do you.
When you want to write something that several people will read, think about it several times – is it really saying what you want it to? Are you conveying the message you think is appropriate even if it’s not popular? Are you up to speed with what people in general are thinking or doing in the area you want to write about? Have you used the right tone? Just like a ring tone can say a lot about you, so can the tone of your letters, emails, text messages and articles. Being polite can change the atmosphere in a meeting and can really influence the listener – they don’t have to protect themselves from the emotion – they can focus on the facts.
There is always more than one point of view but eventually you need to form your own opinion.
Competition is key – it keeps you on your toes, makes you want to improve, forces you to be better. Just so in the mobile space. Do you think Steve Jobs sat back after the iPhone and said – I’ve arrived people! No, he had to fight off Samsung and Android – he had to keep going. Apple is still innovating, because they have to. You should make sure you use the right platforms in the right way to help you innovate, keep ahead of the game, keep changing.
Let’s try to teach our children that it’s important to look someone in the eye and say I love you and mean it, and look your colleagues or your friends in the eye and say I don’t agree with you and this is why. It’s too easy to post something on a wall and walk away – to never form a connection that is meaningful and valuable, and that enriches our lives because we didn’t want to or we couldn’t step outside of ourselves and learnt about our world, our industry, the people we work with, and what our options are.
Just like innovating and developing technology, communication is an art.
Let’s keep innovating, developing and tweeting, let’s keep communicating, but let’s make sure we don’t lose the art.
This article is not legal advice. It is published for your interest only and to stimulate debate, and may not be relied upon or quoted without the author’s express permission.