Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Are You Ready For The Changes In How We Communicate?

One of the themes I’ve been exploring lately on my blog is how the way we work is changing. Not will change or might change, but currently in the process of changing to reflect new realities of today’s interconnected and globalized world. Perhaps the clearest indication of how much more change is coming our way comes from looking at what’s going on in the hallways of secondary and post-secondary educational institutions.

Over the course of the current academic year, I’ve had the privilege of serving as the chairman for the Governing Board at one of the regional high schools and this role has provided me with the opportunity to observe and become more familiar with some of the communication behaviours found in today’s teenage populace.

While the educators are grappling with how to adjust school regulations and code of conduct rules to better reflect and serve the needs of their students in this new social dynamic, these changes provide some fascinating and important revelations about how much things are changing in how we communicate – and will soon communicate – not just in our schools, but in our workplaces as well.

As an example, at our regional high school, one of our teachers decided to do an experiment where she allowed her students to text during her class with the sole condition being that if she caught them in the act, she would take away their smartphones for the day.

At the end of the class, the teacher expressed her disappointment that none of the students had elected to participate in her experiment. The students looked at her quizzically and admitted they had indeed texted during her class. When she polled the students to find out how many of them had sent text messages during her class, almost of all them raised their hands.

The surprising findings from this teacher’s class experiment mirror the results of two recent studies in terms of the sociological impact online communications and smartphones are having on this future generation of leaders and employees.

A study of driver demographics in 14 countries by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute has found that the number of young drivers has been on a steady decline, with a correlation being found between the availability of internet access and the number of young people choosing to get their driver’s license.

One theory put forth by the study’s authors is that the ability to connect and communicate via smartphones and the internet is reducing the need for face time among young people. Considering the ease with which they can text as described by the teacher above – not to mention the strong reliance many students have in using their smartphones to stay in touch with their friends – this certainly seems to be an obvious factor for this decline.

In yet another study recently released by Pew Internet, researchers found that smartphone users in the age range of 18-29 are more likely to rely on their devices to obtain “just in time” information. In other words, they are becoming more habituated to being able to have immediate access to pertinent information to inform their decisions and choices.

Again, these study findings mirror the concerns shared by many educators regarding their current curriculum and how to address student queries about the necessity of having to remember information that they could easily find via the internet or through their social media networks.

While these findings might be surprising or even shocking to the non-digital natives, the fact is that for the digital natives such changes are no different than how the introduction of the microwave oven changed the options we had for how we prepared meals in our kitchen.

Whether this is a good thing or not is inconsequential because the simple truth is that this is the way the current entrants – as well as future entrants – into our workforce feel most comfortable in discovering and relaying ideas and information, as well as how they choose to communicate with one another.

It also serves to reinforce the reality that the old command-and-control approach to leadership can no longer work because what leaders in the past used to control those they lead – access to information – is no longer applicable thanks to the willingness and desire amongst new workers to openly share and discuss what they know or found.

Whether it’s the Millennials or students currently working their way through high school, the reality is that for these upcoming generations of workers, information is not something that is gathered and closely guarded. On the contrary, information is viewed as something that is freely shared and given away – either to inform, entertain, or simply draw attention to whatever they see as being of value or importance.

Again, this shouldn’t be something we need to fear or celebrate. Rather, it’s a reality all organizations and their leaders need to take into consideration today in order to begin creating adaptions and even organizational changes to ensure how they operate mirrors the needs and dispositions of both their current leaders and employees, as well as those who will be joining their ranks in the years to come.

After all, just as is the case with those currently in the workforce, tomorrow’s employees won’t be interested in simply towing the company line or doing things just because that’s the way it’s been done for the last few decades.

And certainly, we’ve seen enough reputable brands lately who’ve succumbed to financial and market share losses because they refused to keep up with the changes around them, insistent that the momentum that got them the lion’s share of the market in the first place would continue to serve them today.

While these changes might be several years away from now, if the past decade has taught us anything it’s that those organizations which not only survive but thrive in this new century do so not by waiting for the wave of change to come crashing down on them, but by anticipating its arrival in order to use that momentum to carry them forward towards their shared purpose.

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  1. On May 23rd, 2012 at 8:47 AM Jim Matorin said:

    Thought provoking post. Tanveer you and I have engaged on this topic numerous times. I do think we need to be sensitive that we are raising a tech savvy generation that communicate/processes different thanks to all the available gizmos. Just in time information? I read the same report and the highest usage percentage was 60%, where are we going to gather.

    When it comes to the classroom, I am not sure they are looking up just in time information pertaining to the material that is being presented. Hopefully we will reach a balance at some point and people will meet in the middle. I would hate to see the art of face to face (including eye contact, body language, etc.) communication go away.

  2. On May 23rd, 2012 at 10:03 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Jim,

    I've read some reports where they compared the ability to decipher non-verbal cues between the various generations (Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials) and they did find that the Millennial generation had a harder time picking up and understanding these cues. It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out with this younger set which has spent much more time using online communications to stay in touch with family and friends.

    One thing that is becoming very clear with educators is that this younger subset is not just tech-savvy, but these devices have quite literally become a third appendage for these students. For example, one teacher told me about how she took her son's smartphone away as a punishment. That same day, he went to his mom saying he needed to call a friend for help with some homework; his mom told him to use one of their home phones. Her son said he couldn't because he didn't know his friend's phone number. As such, she had to go and look it up so he could call his friend.

    Sounds crazy, I know, that this boy wouldn't know how to contact his friend without having his smartphone, but this is the reality for these kids. It has in so many ways become one of their main outlets from which to communicate with others (just ask the number of parents who get a quicker reply texting their kids than calling them up on their cell phones).

    Like you, Jim, I do hope that collectively parents, teachers and other adult figures will encourage and educate these students about the importance and value of face to face communications.

    Certainly their ability to communicate with ease with others not in the same room will be an essential and valuable tool in this ever interconnect world. However, it'd also be nice that they can look up from their future workstations at the person sitting next or across from them and be able to engage in conversation about their shared purpose.

    Thanks again for chiming in and sharing your thoughts on this. It's a fascinating topic and as a parent, one I'll be paying much attention to in the years to come.

  3. On May 26th, 2012 at 5:53 AM Simon Oatea said:

    The link between online-interconnectivity and the need to drive is a very interesting one. I haven't seen that relationship in the UK on an annecdotal basis but that's just a sample of one I suppose!

  4. On May 26th, 2012 at 4:39 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Simon,

    The study found that Canada, Great Britain, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Norway, and Germany all had significant declines in the number of youth drivers year over year, similar to what was seen in the United States.

    Interestingly, when talking with a friend in Boston, she mentioned how in her neighbourhood many of the teenage boys (ages 16 and up) don't have their driver's license. When she asked a few if they were going to get it, most of them didn't see the point.

    It's certainly interesting how what was once a rite of passage to automony and freedom is slowly turning into a skill people will learn only if they need it.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with this Simon, even if the sample size is small.

  5. On May 26th, 2012 at 6:25 AM Krishna said:

    Communication plays a major role to express ourself or share info to others.Nice point that we are to get ready for the changes take place.Helps us a lot.Thanks for sharing helpful information.

  6. On May 26th, 2012 at 4:39 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    My pleasure, Krishna; glad you enjoyed it.

  7. On May 28th, 2012 at 11:45 AM Ann said:

    Hi Tanveer,
    I believe it is a scary corner that we are about to turn. We are losing the physical and personal interaction. Our children would rather text than actually speak to their friends. Can’t be all good.

  8. On May 28th, 2012 at 7:00 PM Gwyn Teatro said:

    To me, the notion of just-in-time information gives rise to the possibility that Internet access (via smart phone or other devices) might be used as a tool for deeper learning. For example, when I was in high school (about a century ago) I spent my time learning things by rote. If I was lucky, I managed to retain the information I crammed into my head long enough to write and pass an exam. There was little deep discussion about the application, or implication, of what I was learning and so I quickly forgot much of it.

    In light of our more immediate access to information, perhaps there is also opportunity to spend less time memorizing and more time putting things into context; challenging current assumptions and; experimenting with new ideas.
    I think the same can be said of people in workplaces.

    I too worry a little about losing the face-to-face interaction between people. I’m concerned about losing our ability to speak in whole sentences and converse with others in a way that doesn’t involve an LOL or LMAO somewhere in the text. That said, the world is evolving and we need to find ways to incorporate different communication styles and learning styles into our lives. It begins with our young people. If we are going to build 21st century schools and workplaces, we need to be listening to them.

    Thanks for another great post, Tanveer. As always, you manage to press my ‘thinking’ button.

  9. On May 29th, 2012 at 12:42 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Gwyn,

    Like you, I'm not a fan of simply memorizing details for the sake of. I remember questioning a few of my chemistry professors who insisted that we should memorize the periodic table considering how every chemistry lab and textbook has them within reach for easy reference. And many studies have shown that computers in the classrooms have increased student comprehension levels because their focus is less on remembering details and more on understanding their relevance.

    There definitely needs to be a re-examination of current school curricula because things are changing and the impact will be felt in the academic world as much as it will in the business one.

    As for the loss of face-to-face interaction, as I mentioned to my reply to Ann, I think what we all need to understand is striking that balance between the two communication outlets, instead of favouring one over the other. Certainly each has their strengths in terms of building relationships and fostering dialogue, but they also have their limitations in terms of what can be shared and where.

    In any case, I'm glad to hear this post got you thinking, Gwyn. It's certainly a fascinating issue and one that I suspect we'll be hearing and talking more about in the years to come as this generation grows older and we begin to really appreciate the social shifts currenlty underway in the hallways of the secondary education institutions.

  10. On May 29th, 2012 at 7:11 AM Adrian said:

    Hi Tanveer, now this time its showing that doing anything more and more and to at it's extreme end will produce nothing but the bad consequences! This seems much legit in terms of the smartphone usage among the teenagers! Honestly, if I say, nowadays the teenagers have no idea who resides in front of their neighboring apartment but they know the most popular user of the social networks! in fact now a days folks have lots their physical vision on real people! Now the profile picture is what teenagers care about!

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