The Negative Impact That Growing Up Digital Has Had on Communication

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Millennials have a stronger connection with technology than any previous generation. It makes sense that they would: They grew up alongside the internet and smartphones. Experts in all things digital, millennials have certain advantages when adopting and deploying the latest workplace technologies to drive results.

However, the millennial affinity for technology may also be the source of what many deem to be this generation’s greatest weakness: poor communication skills. Many older professionals who work with millennials note that the members of this generation seem to be lacking when it comes to face-to-face interaction, making eye contact, and communicating tactfully.

While the effects of technology on communication skills may be most evident in millennials who grew up with tech, other generations are not immune. Even those who did not grow up digital have started to see their communication skills slip as technology becomes more pervasive in every aspect of our lives.

Here’s what you need to know about the negative impact the digital world can have on your communication :

1. Your Ability to Make Eye Contact Suffers

A little more than half of millennials report experiencing anxiety if they don’t have their phones on them, and people across generations check their phones 80 times a day on average. Part of why we’re so anchored to our phones is that receiving emails and social media notifications releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good, in our brains.

Given this sort of phone addiction, it’s not surprising that many millennials (and others!) struggle to make and sustain eye contact. The discomfort one experiences when separated from their device is real.

Making eye contact helps establish connections and trust with other people. If you struggle with eye contact, it could have a devastating impact on your professional life. Try going to dinner with a friend and keeping your phone off the table. Challenge yourself to make it through the meal without checking your phone once.

2. You’re Shying Away From Face-to-Face Conversations

A recent study  found that requests delivered in person are 34 times more likely to result in positive outcomes than requests sent via email.

Keep your digital device off the table to make meetings as successful as possible. It may be hard to imagine going into a meeting without having your device handy. Still, unless you expect important information that will impact the outcome of your meeting, there’s no need to check your phone or tablet until the meeting is over. Checking your device not only takes your focus away from the topic at hand but it also sends a message to other people in the room that they are not worthy of your full attention. Checking your digital device during a meeting can negate all the positive effects of having a face-to-face meeting in the first place.

3. You’re Less Comfortable With Nondigital Conversations

When most of your communications are virtual, two things happen: You get used to being in a constant state of control and lose your ability to be vulnerable.

You can edit and tweak your message with texting and email until you’re ready to hit send. This communication pattern makes it hard to let your guard down during a conversation. Vulnerability starts to feel foreign and even scary. You might not think vulnerability matters in the workplace, but it can help you become a better leader.

4. You’re Shielding Yourself From Both Conflict and Conflict Resolution

Millennials avoid phone calls. Why? Because they’re less likely to run into conflict if they use texting and email instead. While understandable, This aversion to conflict may also harm conflict resolution skills in younger generations. When conflicts inevitably arise — and they will — younger workers may be unable to handle them effectively. That could be disastrous in a professional environment.

Undoubtedly, technology is driving change in our personal and professional lives, and much of the change is positive. However, as outlined above, there are some pitfalls to growing up digitally. By making yourself aware of the drawbacks, you put yourself in the best position to overcome them.

Feeling consumed by the digital world? It may be time to take a much-needed break. Try a digital detox and reap the benefits.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Atrium Staffing blog.Michele Mavi is Atrium Staffing ‘s resident career expert.


Further Reading: The Importance of Balance in a Digital World

In an era defined by digital advancement, it’s essential to remember the importance of balance. We’re not advocating for completely rejecting technology but rather a conscious effort to ensure that interpersonal skills don’t become a lost art. Digital communication should enhance our lives, not define them. Here are some ways you can achieve a healthy balance:

  • Set Digital BoundariesGiven our constant connectedness, setting boundaries for technology use is important. Consider implementing “tech-free” hours in your day where you step away from screens and engage in non-digital activities. This not only gives your eyes a break but also helps cultivate in-person communication skills. You might be surprised at the depth of conversation that can occur without the interruption of buzzing smartphones.
  • Embrace In-Person NetworkingWhile LinkedIn and other digital platforms can be great for building professional connections, they’re not the only way to network. Attending industry conferences, meetups, or even casual networking events can be a great way to practice and improve your face-to-face communication skills.
  • Practice Active ListeningActive listening is a critical skill often diminished by frequent digital communication. When conversing, make a conscious effort to listen attentively, show empathy, and respond appropriately. This can improve your interpersonal skills and make the other person feel heard and valued.
  • Impacts on Emotional IntelligenceBeing constantly connected can also impact emotional intelligence, a critical component of effective communication. Here’s how:
  • Limited Emotional UnderstandingEmojis and exclamation marks can only convey so much. When we rely on digital communication, we miss out on non-verbal cues like tone, facial expressions, and body language, which are vital in understanding others’ emotions fully. If we’re not regularly engaging in face-to-face interactions, we could lose touch with these important emotional indicators.
  • Misinterpretation and MiscommunicationWithout the nuance of face-to-face interaction, digital communication can often lead to misinterpretation. Sarcasm and humor, for instance, can easily be misconstrued in a text or an email, causing unnecessary confusion or conflict. Awareness of this potential pitfall can encourage us to seek in-person conversations for complex or sensitive matters.
  • The Role of Technology in Enhancing CommunicationWhile the conversation often revolves around the adverse effects of technology on communication, it’s important to note that it can also be used to enhance our communication skills if used mindfully:
  • Virtual Reality (VR) for Communication TrainingInnovative technologies like VR are used for communication training. These immersive experiences can simulate real-life scenarios and offer a safe environment to practice and refine interpersonal skills.
  • Digital Tools for CollaborationPlatforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom have transformed workplace collaboration, enabling real-time communication across geographical boundaries. These tools can supplement in-person interactions and keep teams connected, especially in remote work environments.
  • Online Resources for Skill DevelopmentThere are countless online courses, webinars, and resources to improve communication skills. Leveraging these tools can be a great way to counterbalance the negative impact of technology on interpersonal communication.

In conclusion, while technology, especially the rise of digital communication, has influenced our communication skills, managing this impact’s within our control. By being mindful of our technology use, setting boundaries, and committing to ongoing skill development, we can ensure that we retain and refine our interpersonal skills in this digital age.

By Michele Mavi