One question I’ve decided to incorporate into my list of interview questions for prospective employees is, “Under what circumstances would you see yourself IMing with a coworker who sits next to you?”
I’ve always been one to get up out of my chair and go talk to someone in person when I needed to discuss something.
Personal communication allows you to take full advantage of verbal cues and body language, which usually makes for better understanding and a more productive conversation. It’s also faster, and more efficient, than trying to carry on a conversation while both you and the other person is engaged in something else.
I’ve often been one to keep my IM program off unless I was trying to reach someone in a different office (physical location), or I wanted to have a line of communication to someone giving a presentation who may need a lifeline if they get a tough question or run into some other sort of trouble.
My biggest problem with IM is that Immature Messengers use it to air out their issues at work with other coworkers, which does nothing to solve the problem and only serves to foster more unhappiness and distrust.
As I’ve watched the use of IM grow, I’ve seen more and more people use it in a meeting, sitting right across from the person they’re IMing with, make fun of someone sitting right next to them. (I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t guilty of this myself, but I can say it was more of an exception than a rule.)
I’ve seen people sitting at their workspace IMing with a coworker sitting right next to or across from them, ripping on their boss or coworkers or rallying their coworkers to join them in being angry about something they’ve not tried to fix.
And that’s my biggest problem with it. To many workers, IM has replaced taking your issue directly to the person who may be able to fix it.
Having conversations about work problems with a boss or someone who can affect positive change – whether they’re about the direction of a project, or a coworker who may be counterproductive or annoying – is difficult.
But one thing is for certain: if you don’t take a problem to someone who can solve the problem, then you are now responsible for your own misery. They can’t help you if they don’t know the problem exists.
And if you’re going to take your misery and share it with people who can only empathize, but not solve your problem, you’re now spreading cancer among a team. I will never stand for that.
I was recently asked how I would handle that. It seems the best way goes back to my interview question above. I would want to ask people where they see the benefits of it. Why is it better than speaking with the person you’re IMing.
I’m also fascinated because those who do that lose sight of the fact that it’s happening on work machines, which are owned by the company. They can easily justify reading through one’s IM transcripts if they choose.
To me, IM stands for Immature Messaging because far too often, that’s how I’ve seen it used.
Part of my new work opportunity is building a Seattle creative office for an agency out of Los Angeles. I was recently talking to the first person they hired for the office, a designer, about my issues with IM. She rightly said:
“Fortunately, it’ll be years before we have to use IM to bash our coworkers because our team isn’t afraid to be honest with each other.”
If we do our jobs right and hire people with high standards who are invested in the team’s work and who can thrive in a team environment, it won’t be a few years… it’ll be never, no matter how big we grow to be.