Time for Slow Communication?

Here’s how you could spend your day.  A quick shower, an energy bar and a scan of the papers before catching the express train to work, on which you speed read the executive summary of yesterday’s meeting.   You then spend a day having power meetings, sending instant messages and calling colleagues (on speed dial) about the fast track promotion you’ve been offered.  Lunch would be fast food washed down with Red Bull and a power nap.  On the way home, you stop off for an instant spray tan to look good for the speed dating session that evening.  You end the day checking urgent emails via your superfast broadband over an instant coffee and a 60-second news round-up .   You live life in the fast lane.   You’re a real speed demon.   Or, just maybe, you could SLOW DOWN.   There’s a growing (I was going to say fast growing) trend for slowing down.   Take the International Slow Movement for instance.   It began in Italy in the eighties as the Slow Food movement to advocate slow, leisurely dining with friends and family using local, organic produce.  It’s symbol is a snail and it now has 85,000 members in 50 countries.    The movement has now grown to include Slow Travel, Slow Cities, Slow Art, Slow Parenting and Slow Gardening (and others).   In London, the Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment aims to revive the pedestrian spirit of Plato’s Academy and eighteenth century coffee shop conversation.   I also came across the wonderfully titled International Institute of Not Doing Much (IINDM), whose Slow Manifesto includes classics like “we shall slow down in the fields and in the streets, we shall slow down in the hills, we shall never surrender!” and “some are born to slowness—others have it thrust upon them.”   They have 4,000 members and according to their brilliant website: “Over the past few centuries, our wise members have been pondering the nature of effort. On the whole, we don’t like it.”   I’ve joined up.   But there’s a serious side to slowness.   In the West especially, we have this inbuilt ‘time is money’ mindset and that if you’re anything other than ‘mad busy’ then you’re seen as lazy, weak or a failure.    How many times do you say to a colleague in the office “are you busy?”.   What would you think if they said “nah, not really”?   Evidence shows that speedy work is bad for your health, bad for wellbeing and bad for productivity too.   Working hours in the UK are longer than anywhere else in Europe and yet Scandinavian countries – where they work the fewest hours – are among the most competitive nations in the world.   According to recent surveys, around a quarter of Americans ‘always feel rushed’ and 20% of Brits skip lunch.  Even the siesta is on its last legs in Spain.   But ‘fast is not always best’ is a message that’s beginning to gain some traction.   Companies are investing heavily in wellbeing programmes and some are introducing ‘quiet spaces’ for workers to go and recharge their batteries.    Can we communicators help?   Should we be developing our own strategies for Slow Communication?   Maybe we should be more considered and planned in our message delivery?  Maybe we should review the language we use to cut down on the ‘fast adjectives’.  Maybe we should warn against communications that talk about speedy benefit delivery and step-change initiatives.  Maybe we could encourage measured and thoughtful briefings?   Maybe we should stop doing 50% of the comms work we think the organisation can’t survive without (trust me, it can).   Maybe we should introduce well crafted prose that takes time to read instead of the half-cocked, ambiguous and jargon-filled email that we rushed out in ten minutes to half the workforce.    Bring back the printed newsletter.   Double the length of team meetings.   Play classical music at town hall events.   Hand out cigars (OK, that one’s a joke).   Spike the intranet so it takes twice as long to download (that’s only half a joke).   Train managers on the art of conversation.   Hold coffee-shop debates on key issues.    Have comms that ‘reflect on’ and ‘walk through’ big issues.    Move the message focus away from ‘the final outcome’ and more towards ‘the stopping points along the way’.  Have more tea breaks.  Encourage your audience to read and think, not scan and ignore.   If you’re really keen, have meetings with no actions, practice looking out of the window and invest in an office tortoise (this is getting silly, stop me someone).   Finally, when you next think only an email will do, remember this.  Before the telegraph connection between England and Australia in 1872, a letter you sent to your cousin in Sydney would take 110 days to arrive.  You’d get a reply after seven months.

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