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5 Ways Messaging Apps are Killing your Team’s Collaboration

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Messaging apps are amazing tools with the power to do a lot of good, but the truth is the process of collaborating with coworkers requires relationships established through meaningful communication - the kind of communication that only happens face-to-face.
Messaging apps are amazing tools with the power to do a lot of good, but in the same way that every superhero has a dark side, so do messaging apps. Yes, their power to eliminate inbox clutter and efficiently organize all the pieces of a project in a central location is something to applaud; however, they are not good for engaging in genuine collaboration. In fact, they could be sabotaging your efforts to collaborate.  
Sure, messaging apps promise instant gratification and collaboration with minimal effort, but the truth is the process of collaborating with coworkers requires relationships established through meaningful communication, the kind of communication that only happens face-to-face — and there’s plenty of research to prove it.
We live in an era where innovation is lauded as the ultimate competitive advantage, but there is no innovation without collaboration. So what’s the big deal with collaboration and why can’t you do it on your messaging app?
 

1. Collaboration requires trust


According to collaboration and team science research published by John Hopkins University, “Trust has to be built slowly over time by providing team members with positive shared experiences.”

Messaging apps are great for sharing quick updates on task progress, but it’s impossible to share an experience with another person using a messaging app. Anyone whose ever used a dating app knows you cannot build a deep and trusting relationship via messages. On the same note, anyone whose experienced a modern-day breakup knows you cannot sustain a deep and trusting relationship via messaging either.  

In a recent article on the psychology of collaboration, Dr. Carrie Barron stated, Good collaboration is based on trust and the inner freedom that ensues when you come together. Good collaborators are deeply attuned to one another. Ideally, there are unspoken understandings and ways to anticipate the other’s state of mind without direct discussion.

To build trust with your team, you must share experiences, which requires spending time with people, interacting with them, and getting to know them on a deeper level.
 

2. Collaboration requires interaction


When you collaborate in person with someone, a rapid-fire exchange of ideas typically produces heightened energy, excitement and momentum. Conversely, receiving a barrage of messages often results in frustration, annoyance, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Why? Because messages are one-sided conversations that come as interruptions. Messaging apps harm the collaborative process because conversations are foisted upon participants instead of happening organically, as they do when people meet face-to-face. 

The negative impact of messaging on people’s ability to interact with others was chronicled in an article that featured several health experts, including Gary Small, the Director of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California in Los Angeles. Small purports that people that overuse messages in lieu of face-to-face interactions have a harder time communicating and talking, which impairs their creativity.  

“The human race has only survived through our ability to collaborate and reciprocate…it’s a basic playground skill and we learn it through interacting with others.” – Gill Green, Organizational Psychologist
 

3. Collaboration requires understanding


There are countless difference between communicating via written words (messaging) and spoken ones. In our recent blog on how to promote understanding in the workplace, we shared insights fromDr. Albert Mehrabian, a nonverbal communications expert, whose research revealed that if you are talking to someone and can’t see them, you are missing up to 93 percent of what’s being said.

That’s a big margin for miscommunication, and consistent miscommunication is how trusting relationships between team members are eroded over time. Mehrabian’s research found that we base 38 percent of our understanding of a person’s words on their voice and tone, and 55 percent onnonverbal elements, such as facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc. In short, if you’re looking to foster collaboration by promoting understanding, your team members need to be able to see each other.

“When collaborators understand and trust one another deeply they can make great things or make great things happen.” – Dr. Carrie Barron, Author of The Creativity Cure
 

4. Collaboration requires negotiation


Whether you believe the ability to negotiate is a skill or an art form, we can all agree that it is critical to collaborating well. Take any business class on the rules of negotiation and none of them begin with how to construct a persuasive message via an app. They will, however, instruct you on the importance of looking people in the eye and sitting down with them to discuss the business at hand, so that you can establish trust and understanding, and reach an agreement regarding actions to be taken.  

Most models for collaborative solution-finding condense the process into a series of six steps, which we have shared below. You will note as you review each step that all require communication and negotiation skills that are best practiced through face-to-face interactions.  

  • Step 1: Share perspectives – Share perspectives of situations, needs, wants, etc.
  • Step 2: Define issues — Explore potential issues and weigh pros and cons
  • Step 3: Identify interests — Move beyond positions and find common ground
  • Step 4: Generate options — Consider as many different ideas as possible
  • Step 5: Evaluate options — Agree upon criteria, combine, reduce and rank options
  • Step 6: Reach agreement — Discuss next steps and responsibilities of parties involved
 

5. Collaboration requires fun


Unless you are using your messaging app to invite everyone out for drinks, chances are it’s not a collaborative tool your team associates with fun. In the best-selling book, Executive EQ: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Organizations, co-authors, Robert Cooper, Ph.D. and Ayman Sawaf, discuss at length the results from their research (and others) which shows a strong relationship between a fun work atmosphere and accomplishing business objectives, like collaborative problem solving, creative innovation and more. More importantly, examples of how to cultivate a fun atmosphere where collaboration, creativity and innovation flow freely all feature people connecting with one another through face-to-face interactions.  

“[Fun] encourages intuitive flow, makes you more helpful toward others, and significantly improves intelligence processes such as judgment, problem solving, and decision making when you are facing difficult challenges. It is a great aid to creative transformation.” – Robert Cooper, Ph.D., Co-Author ofExecutive EQ: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Organizations
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