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Communication: the human element - don’t take easy, e-mail way out

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Like most proud members of the U.S. Air Force, I do my best to stay in regular contact with my parents. In my case, my mother. When I spoke with her this past weekend using a cell phone, it occurred to me how our ability to communicate has changed since my mother’s birth. (If I revealed her age, I would undoubtedly get in trouble.) 

There is still one part of communication that has not changed since the dawn of time (well before my mother’s birth). Given all of the incredible advancements in communication technology that exist today, effective communication still boils down to two people understanding each others’ words and intentions. Gadgets, upgrades and other new toys are nice, but they will never replace the conscientious supervisor, friend or family member who personalizes the art of communication.

How many times have you been at your work station and received an e-mail from someone in the same office? Perhaps you’ve received an e-mail from someone sitting right next to you. I know I have, and on occasion I’ve been the guilty one sending similar e-mails. When you take a minute to step back and look at the way you communicate, ask yourself if you have fallen into the short-range e-mail trap? What happened to the phone call or the face-to-face communication of days gone by? Is our world that much busier, or is sending an e-mail just easier?

The art of communicating is more important than ever. Leadership depends on effective communication, and the most effective way to communicate is in person. It’s tough to mentor, train and lead through e-mail. E-mail is fast, easy and provides the all-important paper trail, but does it effectively communicate the sender’s intent? More importantly, will it achieve the desired effect?

Take every opportunity to move away from your computer and get to where your troops work and live. Talk to them and listen. I have found that listening is often more important than talking. Taking the time to truly listen promotes greater understanding, and greater understanding generally results in successful mission accomplishment.