Peter is Director Research & Development for HRN. His interest is in bringing together businesses, and the people who led and manage them, to create the future of work.

Are you dazed and confused by the myriad of communications you receive? Torn between, twitter, facebook, e-mail, google +, LinkedIn, SMS text messages and phone calls?

Hello and Welcome to the brave new world of 21st century business communication. You’d think given all this C21st i-connectivity that communication would be improved and that the world a more connected place in which to work and do business. Most times it is – but the instances where it is not the case are growing at an alarming rate!

Today there is a new generation taking over – the i-generation. i-generation people live in a world where increasingly it is all about i, what matters to i and i alone, where i communicate when and if, and with who i feel like. We could be forgiven for wondering if communication hasn’t regressed to that stage of development which the psychologist Sigmund Freud identified for children aged 1-3 years. So, welcome to the i-generation. A generation defined not by age, but by the i-devices they own, and, seemingly, by a misplaced attitude to communication which in fact betrays a degree of self centredness, self importance and self-interest that borders on vanity and arrogance.

Here is a graphic illustration from the Argentinian cartoonist Quino

In the business world today we have never been so connected and communication never so poor. Over the past four years or so I have noticed a marked decline in the level of communication in business. Communication in 140 characters or less is the new normal. When we can actually be bothered to read or reply to an e-mail it is usually only a one liner that suffices. Phones and text messages go unanswered especially those not from the list of “friends” in the device. Many communications exhibit a level of literacy that borders on the illiterate. The anti-social are those not constantly tuned into a social network. Strangers want to connect simply to add quantity and kudos to themselves. Acquaintances and people from our past turn up out of the blue and ask to connect … and then betray their sincerity with a standard system message! We receive messages littered with abbreviations that would only make sense to an angst ridden teenager. Then we get messages that suggest a level of familiarity that doesn’t exist and is never likely to. Yes, and sometimes we even get messages that combine all of the above! Worse we occasionally get messages or phone calls that vent anger. Unprofessional? Sure. Sad? Certainly. Some people have reached that point where they are at risk of mental implosion!

Who’s responsible for all this? Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg?! Have lunatic geeks taken over the asylum and redefined insanity! We can blame Twitter and its requirement to say it all in 140 characters. We can blame it on Facebook which, regardless of the intentions of its creators, has probably done more to advance narcissism than any single invention since the mirror. Have you ever noticed how those who don’t respond to messages still have time to send updates to Twitter and Facebook pages, but don’t have the common courtesy to pick up the phone or send a message. This is fine in the teenage bedroom, but it’s time people in the business world grew up and learned to master their work life communication skills and take control of their i devices. The responsibility for poor communication lies with the individual and the peer group they mix with.

Human resources departments and those who run them can make a significant difference by pushing for better business communication, internally and externally. When communication starts to breakdown and / or disintegrate one can expect the same to happen to levels of engagement within an organisation, and ultimately it’s balance sheet. Those in HR and at the top of organisations need to lead by example – how they communicate will help set the tone for the entire organisation’s image internally, and externally.