When Smartphones Cause Dumb Problems: Navigating Conflict Resolution in an Age of Technology Overload

The use of smartphones, the increasing variety of technologies in the workplace, and the use of social media for professional and personal goals unveil new dynamics for conflict resolution.

Four adults on phones

Think about the last new technology introduced to your workplace. Maybe it was Slack? Skype? Hubspot? Salesforce?

New technologies can solve many workplace challenges, allowing team members to connect beyond physical boundaries, such as working in different locations – or chronological boundaries, such as working different shifts or in different time zones.

But all of these technologies can also contribute to “communication overload.” You may become increasingly overwhelmed by the pressure to process and appropriately respond to the multitude of messages you receive via email, voicemail, online chat, text messaging and webconferencing – on top of face-to-face meetings and pop-in office visitors.

In light of all of this technology, you may find yourself asking, “When am I supposed to get my actual work done?”

Sound familiar?

You are not alone. It’s important to recognize that, while yes, technology can facilitate more convenient information-sharing and collaboration, it also has a dark side.

Each new technology is sold to us as the tool that will solve all of our "communication problems." However, new technologies rarely replace old technologies – think of Slack and email – meaning that managing the additional work generated by each new technology may only add to our sense of overload.

Combined with smaller teams and shrinking budgets, as we take on more and more, communication overload can make it increasingly difficult to keep a lid on our frustration. This can lead to “flaming,” or the use of name calling, accusations and even bullying that can result when we communicate through technology rather than forms of communication with face-to-face interaction that offer more “cues” to help us understand someone’s true intention.

The lack of these nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, tone of voice and facial expression, makes it easier to misinterpret the messages we receive through technology.

The tendency to lash out can be further amplified by the fact that organizations are increasingly adopting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies for technology use. Rather than providing company-owned smartphones and laptops (or sometimes in addition to company-provided technology), organizations that embrace BYOD, allow employees to use their own devices to call clients, email colleagues, and dial in for team meetings, etc.

While convenient for workers (Who wants to be juggling two cell phones these days, anyway?) and cost-saving for organizations, holding our personal cell phone in our hands while walking through the grocery store and texting a teammate can blur the lines of what is “acceptable” communication at work.

All of the above and much more was covered during the recent “When Smart Phones Cause Dumb Problems: The Role of Communication Technologies and Social Media in Creating & Amplifying Workplace Conflict” webinar. Don't miss more valuable, free sessions on workplace communications. Register for upcoming Link & Learns, and view past sessions.

About the Author
Angie Pastorek, Ph.D., is a faculty member at the KU Edwards Campus. She teaches and manages two graduate programs in workplace communication, including the four-course certificate in professional workplace communication and a full master’s degree in organizational communication. Pastorek also offers workshops for local business, government and nonprofit organizations through the Knowledge Now program. If you are interested in any of these programming options, you may contact her at apastorek@ku.edu.

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