In the last couple of years, almost a decade, we’ve been seeing more and more top class movies and TV artists coming to theater to direct, act, create, perform… I had a chance to see Long Way Journey Into the Night staring Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville in London. Impressive performance. I was reading about Robert Redford who was announcing the end of his silver screen career, saying that he might perform in theater in the future… There are many more examples…
I have always been a huge fan of moving pictures. When I started my theater and film studies, it wasn’t long until I started moving towards film studies. I enjoyed watching movies, analyzing them, reading about film history and theory… Then many years passed, I have been doing something completely different for 15 years. But, when I decided to come back to writing – I wrote a theater play. Why is that? I surprised myself a bit. The story I wrote was easily TV movie material as well. Maybe an even bigger project…
Although I never thought that my writing will be performed in front of an audience at the time, all of us infected by performing arts – we always write for the audience. Even if it’s far-fetched, we create with hopes that actors will transform our words into live characters on stage or on the screen. And in those rare moments of imagining my words coming to life, I’ve often wanted it to be a two way communication between the performers and the audience.
In my first or second life (still can’t decide what comes before and what after), in the business environment, I also strongly believe in the power of a live word, contact and being in the same room with people you are talking to.
Of course, business became too international and too dynamic in the last couple of decades. In the beginning people used to travel like crazy. Then most of us became tired. So technology jumped in so that we can do meetings, conferences, trainings, performance reviews, press events, lectures… via cameras, screens, live streams etc. And in most cases it works. It’s functional. And let’s be honest: many topics are so mundane and basic, that meetings would not make any sense if you are not already in the same office.
But when it comes to development of ideas and projects, development of people, creative processes and learning – I can hardly imagine anything being as powerful as live contact and live communication.
It’s not just that I consider depersonalized communication useless in many cases, but what I witness lately is that depersonalized communication (via e-mails, webinars, videos etc.) is becoming, in a way, an excuse for poor leadership and communication. Of course that CEO or MD of hundreds or thousands of employees can’t manage to talk to every person, but leadership and managerial structure below should be capable to do so. They probably do that more often when it comes to good news, but of course – it’s easier to hide yourself behind a holding statement or senior management video when it comes to not-so-good news or challenging topics – such as restructuring, reorganization or change management.
Many times, I found myself in a situation to deliver unpleasant news to people that I have managed. Sometimes even to hundreds of them. In a small number of cases the news was that they would lose their jobs. Usually, that was a decision coming from above. But, I was never just a messenger who is just forwarding an e-mail. I was always trying to be more of a translator. To deliver, in direct and live (very often one-on-one) communication, my opinion of what certain news means for a certain group of people or individuals.
And, like in theater, where actors (although they perform in most cases, a rehearsed piece with the same lines during every performance) adjust their performance depending on the audience sitting in front of them on that particular night, you are able to tailor your communication toward your team based on their reactions – comments and questions, but also body language. This is especially important when you want to keep the team spirit lifted, after delivering some not-so-good news.
I invest a lot of time into live communication. It’s exhausting. Even if it’s pleasant. Because, if you also want to listen, you need a lot of energy. To be honest – sometimes I would prefer not to speak with anyone for days or even weeks. I would prefer to just prepare an e-mail and click send. But, I feel, as a leader of a certain team and function, but also as a member of the management team of a company, that my duty is to communicate with people as much as possible. In both official and unofficial occasions.
You would be surprised how much this can improve the level of satisfaction of employees, their engagement and, in the end, respect. Once I even had a chance to test this.
In the era when everything can be outsorced, you can’t outsource human touch. You can try, like in the movie Up in the Air (2009), but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s humiliating for everyone. Take one Sex on the Beach cocktail to help you relax and star talking. Live.