Human Skill And Good Will

human skill

I remember a conversation I had with a client some years ago. It made me think about the human skill of face-to-face communication.

It was in the very early days of AI. I don’t mean tools like ChatGPT and the like; this was about chat bots on websites, ‘virtual assistants’ and characters like Google and Siri.

We were discussing, in a light-hearted way, how natural it seemed to talk to these bots as though they were human beings.

We’d say, ‘Hey Siri, could you please convert $675 US dollars to Australian dollars?’ or  ‘Hey Google, what’s the weather forecast for Perth, please?’

And when we got the answers, we’d sing out ‘Thank you’, without even thinking about it.

We laughed that we were being so polite to machines.

Good old digital assistants! Wonder if they’re starting to feel human.

Real human beings should be so lucky!

The ‘face-to face’ non-encounter; no human skill apparent

How carefully, recently, have you observed real people ‘interacting’ with other real people? You’d be forgiven if you thought you were robot-watching.

What’s happened to the human skill of communication?

Two scenarios:

At the coffee stand (airport)

Server: ‘Yep?’

Customer:  (Eyes on phone screen) ‘Can I grab a large latte?’

[To me ‘grab’ says ‘rude and pushy’; ‘Could I have’ is considered more polite than a brusque ‘Can I’ but perhaps that’s another story]

Server: [Silence] [Delivers coffee]

Customer: [Silence] [Uses PayWave]

End of ‘interaction’.

At the checkout (supermarket)

Server: [Silence] [Scans items] ‘Wanna 15c bag?’

Customer: [Silence] [Shakes head]

Server: [Silence] [Gestures towards credit card terminal]

Customer: [Silence] [Completes payment]

End of ‘interaction’.

Where’s the fault? Human skill not in evidence

In both cases, two people are at fault: actively and/or passively. The problem is the total absence (and acceptance of the absence) of the human skill of face-to-face communication – even on a transactional level.

No greeting. Zero eye contact. No acknowledgement that the other person is a human being.

There’s no customer service here. No ‘please’ or ‘thank you’.

None of us is perfect and these could have been individual lapses but the situations are not unique.

As I do, you might have your own way of addressing the type of scenario I’ve just described.

But what about this same human skill in our written communication?

The written ‘non-communication’

If you want to Lift Your Language, you should probably make sure you’re not guilty of poor or non-existent communication:

  • Siri and Google won’t respond to you if you don’t use their names. Real people probably don’t like you ignoring their names either. 
    It’s just rude not to include a greeting in the first text message or email, or in the first reply in an exchange. And the greeting should include a name. After that, the ‘to and fro’ messages might not need it. 
    The same applies to a sign off. Build one into your email signature; it’s not hard
  • Digital assistants don’t expect ‘please’ and ‘thank you’; human beings do.
    ‘Check this’, ‘Send details’ or ‘Read the attached’ simply don’t work for most people. The receiver might follow the ‘instruction’, but what impression of the sender does it create?
  • Sending an acknowledgement of a message is a practical move as well as a polite one; if deadlines are involved, people need to know their messages are reaching their destination
  • No news might be good news, but no message is definitely not. An attachment with no message at all is a travesty of what communication means. It’s the electronic version of the ‘grunt’. Again, apart from being courteous, there are practical advantages of including a greeting and some text. Without them, emails can look like ‘no content’ messages and go to spam.

You’re more likely to be the receiver rather than the sender of these non-communications. That being the case, I’d be interested to hear your strategies for dealing with them.

The language of contact that really isn’t; human skill nowhere to be seen

It is quite noticeable that some of the language used in messaging is often opposite in meaning to what’s actually happening.

Reach out’ has the implication of human contact; it’s a tactile image that was once associated with compassion and involvement. Funny (and ironic) how some of the emails I describe above often have the added ‘I’ll reach out next week’, when the image the sentences creates is so far removed from the reality.

Share’ is a word that suggests togetherness, openness and generosity. These days, it’s routinely used when the reality involves nothing more than pressing a button or attaching a document without a message.

Warm regards’ as a sign off is fine – except when the rest of the message shows neither warmth nor regard for the receiver.

Perhaps ‘relationship’ words are replacing basic human, social relationships.

Maybe we need to ‘humanage’ our communications a little more effectively.

What do you think?

Solutions? Use your human skill

I usually try to respond to rude or poor communication in the most polite and polished manner possible. This in the hope it will ‘rub off’ or at least make a point.

A couple of times I have responded to a missing thank you with ‘You’re welcome’. Admittedly, this is a bit ‘smart-alecky’ but sometimes, as you know, there comes a point.…

Maybe I’ll take a hint from Google and Siri, and respond only to ‘Hello Janette’.

I would genuinely love to hear anything you have tried (and whether or not it was successful).

Lifting our language isn’t just about grammar and expression.

It’s about better (real) communication.
Mostly it’s about personal courtesy.
Mainly it’s about human skill.

See more ways to Lift Your Language.

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