Technology is putting up barriers to the kind of deep listening that helps two people learn from each other. This is especially true in healthcare. Medical patients, often nervous, scared, and in pain, are comforted by the personal caring and touch of their doctors, yet technology (and time pressure) is getting in the way of that relationship. Abraham Verghese, Stanford University physician and best-selling author, argues that the tendency today is for doctors to order tests before or in lieu of conducting a thorough physical exam. By doing this, they risk missing information that can help them make a more accurate diagnosis and enhance the patient experience. He makes that point in this TED talk:
An emphasis on “high tech” at the expense of “high touch” is happening in other workplace situations as well. We seem to be moving away from closeness and the expression of caring between employees and their supervisors. The work relationship has become automated and digitized, putting more distance between people who should be continuously learning together. Email, texting, conference calls, and Skype meetings are replacing face-to-face conversation. The efficiency of these technologies is wonderful; I couldn’t accomplish nearly as much if I didn’t have them. But something is lost when performance feedback is emailed and difficult conversations are held over the phone.
The effect is limited when performance reviews are reduced to an annual exchange of evaluation forms between employee and supervisor. Employees are more likely to respect the sender, hear the message, and change behavior when the encounter between these collaborators is in-person and over a dedicated and sufficient amount of time. Maybe it doesn’t require physical touch, but proximity and deep listening, especially in western culture, conveys a level of respect and caring that cannot be felt from the latest communication technology.