Modern Social Media; is it the Death of Traditional Conversation?

When I started as a freshman in college during the fall of 2002 I was not familiar with instant messaging. I did not own a cell phone and starting college was when I finally had a computer of my own with access to the internet. During that fall I became addicted to aim; AOL instant messaging. I would fiddle with the layout, change fonts, add quotations to my profile, etc. I started to understand and use AOL instant messaging abbreviations. These days I tend not to use those abbreviations as I have found typing complete sentences helps me communicate more effectively. I am frequently confused when reading the status updates of my friends and (especially younger) colleagues.  The – abbreviations and slang are almost incomprehensible.

It seems that as Social Media has taken over our on-line lives (both personally and professionally) it has also taken over how we communicate off-line. “Online” communications – in short hand, with typos and using slang – have translated directly into how we speak to one another face to face. There have been numerous comedy skits in recent months especially with twitter’s hashtag craze that is sweeping not only twitter but other social media sites such as Facebook. (Watch Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake’s take on this. It was very funny and I recommend checking it out; http://gizmodo.com/justin-timberlake-show-us-how-dumb-we-sound-when-we-use-1382465357)

Since working in customer service for the last six years (especially on the phone) I have come to realize that the hardest aspect of this type of job is re-learning how to speak in full sentences and with proper grammar. Working in a call center is challenging on many levels (especially since the calls are recorded): you need to keep your cool, work on multiple systems at once and keep your customer calm while actively listening, processing their issues and sounding like you care about them and their problems.

If this sounds easy, recall the last time you worked on an email with your spouse on the phone telling you about their day – you have to consciously remind yourself to not to succumb to “uh uh”, “yeah” or “mhm”, “really” which is the short hand way of trying to acknowledge someone while not actually listening to them.  People know when this is happening and it sends a negative message.

You may actually be listening to them while responding like this but it doesn’t sound as if you are. “Mhm, yeah or uh uh” sounds as if you are doing something else and are faking the conversation. Words such as “yes” and phrases such as “I understand” make you sound attentive and alert and can help the customer keep faith that you actually care and will be able to assist them.  As a supervisor, I took over countless escalated calls because of the tone and phrases the previous agent had used on the call with the customer. By using actual words and speaking in grammatically correct full sentences, I was able to sooth the customer and assure them I was giving my full attention and understanding their situation and circumstances.

These days, everyone seems to want to take short cuts and cut corners whenever possible or convenient. We are all on the go and seem to believe that typing full sentences and spelling out words just takes too much time from our day. Communication short hand (writing “u” instead of “you”, saying “uh huh” instead of “yes, I understand”) conveys to the recipient of your message that they are not worth the effort. Regardless of whether or not this is true, it is a fact that our communication style sends a message. We should not disregard the style in which we communicate in our personal and professional lives.  Effective professional communication means using full sentences and grammatically correct phrases.  It conveys respect, care, attention to detail, and, yes, intelligence, and can make a world of a difference. Saying “LOL” out loud as an abbreviation (unless you are being ironic), or habitually saying “yeah” and”uh huh” makes one come across as lazy and inattentive. To move up professionally in any given field or industry it is always a good idea to remember English 101.

Incorrect spelling and Twitter-like abbreviations may be the current style, but there is nothing wrong with correct spelling and using full sentences.  If anything you will stand out for doing so. Though many professionals have succumbed to this low standard, most people really do not enjoy reading abbreviations or slang. You are more likely to improve your position, prove your worth, and excel in your industry by avoiding slang and lazy phrases. There is nothing wrong with having an old-fashioned conversation in complete sentences and even using correct punctuation. You will stand out as someone who cares about their communication and the impression that they make both professionally and personally.

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