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We're Not Getting the Message When It Comes To Technology

You've just missed an important meeting when your co-worker says, "Didn't you get my message about it?" Uh, no -- because this co-worker emailed you about the meeting when you spend all of your time texting. Can you hear me now? Good. Now stop trying to contact me in ways that I don't tend to communicate!

Reading a story about mobile chat overtaking text messaging makes me think, "Oh great, now we'll have even more ways to miss each other's urgent messages." You might think that Blackberry messaging is awesome, but maybe your co-worker still communicates primarily through email. Or vice versa. I say tomato, you say tomato, let's call this whole technological progress thing off!

Rather than being the great unifier, technology is becoming the wayward workplace beacon that helps us pass each other by like two ships in the night. Oh, I just got your message from a few days ago! Sorry I missed it, and sorry for the late reply! is becoming a silent mantra in a world dominated by everything from instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter and Apple's iMessage to Skype, Whatsapp and Myspace. Myspace? Hey, I'm sure somebody, somewhere still uses it just to confuse the rest of us.

Maybe your co-worker has nine email message boxes spread between personal and work use, but checks only two of them consistently. Some people still use land line phones (gasp!) with call-in voice mail as their primary communication device. Hey, it's a step up from using Unix Talk, I guess. Remember that? Those were the good old days, man. Millennials, this is what we Gen Xers were doing before you were even born. Who's the cool one now?

Being able to pick and choose amid a burgeoning list of communication styles, however, is creating communication problems at work. Maybe you've told your co-worker MORE THAN ONCE that you check text messages far more often than you check email. Hint: if you want to reach me quickly, then text me.

Instead of texting you from that point on, however, your co-worker proceeds to KEEP RIGHT ON EMAILING YOU with urgent, work-related details ranging from today's meeting times to project updates to what you should bring to Friday's company potluck. Sorry I missed your email again. So...there's a potluck today? Oops.

It really doesn't matter which communication method we choose, because there will be people on the receiving end who won't get the message. We're all in the same wayward boat, just hoping we don't miss something important that's been sent to us via technology we consider largely unusable. It's Murphy's Law these days that the most urgent messages we receive will show up in a place we never bother to check.

On the one hand, I know people who hate texting and therefore never remember to check their text messages. On the other hand, I know people who hate email and never check their email more than once a month. On top of this, I know other people who would rather pick up the phone than learn texting or instant messaging. And they're all trying to communicate with each other while stubbornly clinging to their preferred apps and software. Nobody wants to budge a finger. It's everyone else who needs to change.

It's not an age thing, it's a preference thing. Our communication preferences on the job are getting in the way of productivity as meetings get missed, deadlines go unnoticed, and everyone wonders why their co-worker relies way too much on (pick one) texting/email/IM/Facebook/mobile phone instead of communicating the "right" way, which, of course, is their chosen way of communicating. Wow, I can't believe you still use email. Hasn't that gone the way of the dodo yet?

The best we can do is to listen to the hints people drop (e.g., "I only check email once a week these days," "Oh, I don't use Facebook") and stop trying to drag each other across that bridge to the 21st Century. Or back across the bridge to the 20th Century, as the case may be. We can agree to disagree on our preferred method of communication, but we do need to agree on how we'll communicate to stay on top of things at work while respecting each other's communication styles. Besides, it beats dial-up any day.

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