Can we talk?

February 21, 2012

A couple of weeks ago my son was sitting in the kitchen when he said, “Guess what I learned in school today? Women use more words in a day to communicate than men do.” Living in a houseful of men, I could have provided the testimonial on that, as could many of you who have only women in your household. 

Communication.  The word has been used a lot lately. It’s funny in a way that for the last two weeks  I’ve heard a lot about the lack of communication. In our Grafton office right now, we have a literal lack of communication. Freezing rains have brought down the lines that bring us access to the Internet!

As a result most of an entire community has no Internet. The newspaper across the street can’t put out its paper. The stockbroker on the corner is working with backup systems. We have no electronic health records.  We’re back to using paper this week for the first time since 2007. Our staff can’t instant message each other between the offices and we have no e-mail!  Can you imagine?  We can’t communicate.

At a time like this, you realize how dependent we are on a steady stream of new information, commentary and even chatter. Air travel, which also cuts the links to the Web, has lots of challenges – as I know all too well – but sometimes it becomes an oasis from e-communications.

At the AOA, we know our members also suffer from information overload. The open rates from our e-mails can attest to that.  We are constantly looking at ways in which we can connect members with the information most valuable to them in the most appropriate way possible.  For example, we’ve made a concerted effort to cut back on e-messaging and to better target the messages we do send.

Another example is our print communications.  Each month you get two printed publications: the AOA News and Optometry: Journal of the AOA.  With printing and postage, it’s a big expense.  At the end of the year, we were faced with a big increase in costs.  So we’re working to get the Journal content online and bring the best of the clinical and practice management information to you in the News.  Starting with this issue, you’ll see “Practice Strategies” stories in the News.

Having been to three optometry schools and the Presidents’ Council in the past two weeks, I’m convinced face-to-face communications remain the gold standard for the true meaning of communications: “A process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system.”  Nothing invented so far can replace the nonverbal cues, eye contact, tone of voice, posture, and active listening that occurs when people are in the same room.

But we’re separated by distance, time zones and the cost of fuel, and have to make do with other options. One person’s idea of communication is different than from another’s.  And one generation might pay closer to attention to one form of communication than another generation does.  The AOA tries to keep the bases covered, through Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, e-zines, blogs, AOAConnect, AOA First Look, webinars and good old snail mail. 

If you have a favorite, let us know.  AOAConnect is the best place, but it’s far from being the only place.

With all these channels of communications, and all the other ones out there, it’s easy to talk past one another.  Most of us have succumbed to the temptation to react before the facts are in, or have engaged in keyboard bravado when a topic gets us hot. 

As a leader, I’ve often had to resist that temptation.   This year as president I have found it better to pick up the phone to speak to members.  On the phone, it seems much easier to truly communicate.  Even Skype sometimes seems like an obstacle.

(Of course, right now, Skype isn’t an option!)

So it’s a little quiet around the office.  Some items will have to wait until we come back online. But for now we’re talking more to each other around the office rather than sending an instant message and we’ve realized the pros and cons of being so connected.  It’s not so bad taking a vacation from the Internet. 

You’ll have to excuse me now.  I have a phone call to make.

Dori Carlson, O.D.
AOA president

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