More and more managers turn to a new management style; management by WhatsApp, and there’s both advantages and disadvantages by doing so. Leaders will know the difference

Ever-so-often, a new management and organizational fad comes along – we’ve had management by fear, by walking around, by walking in front, by numbers, laissez-faire, spaghetti-organizations, bureaucratic and matrix organizations and the list goes on. Lately management by e-mail has been added to the list and now management by WhatsApp. There’s differences between management by e-mail and WhatsApp but also similarities that are important to be aware of

E-mail and WhatsApp are both quick and easy medias to get messages across and many small decisions and discussions are taken and done this way daily. This is perfectly fine as the majority of daily communication and discussions are well-suited for written and fast communication. However, problems arise when the dialogue turns toward people management

It’s too easy to hide behind the phone

As mentioned, quick decisions, questions and easy dialogue is easy, fast, convenient and perfectly fine to do via WhatsApp and / or email. It’s just far, far too easy to engage in sensitive talks through these media, too, as it takes away the uncomfortable element of a hard discussion between two people. This creates several issues that leaders must understand and deal with

I read what you write based on my mood and perception of you

Psychologists have various opinions on the specific numbers, but all agree that when it comes to communicating, body language is the most important factor of how a message is understood. Next-most important is the tone of voice and the least important is the actual words – Dr. Albert Mehrabian suggests the split to be 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and only 7%(!) of the understanding of a message attributed to the spoken (written) words

I think my point is clear. We do use emoticons frequently which can be seen as an aid to tone-of-voice but I doubt it has the 38% effect when written and not heard. This means, in effect, that when you write to me, I add my underlying perception of you to what you write and build my own understanding of what you meant – and this can go horribly wrong, especially when dealing with sensitive matter

A simple ‘ok’ reply can be understood in endless ways; it can be interpreted as “ok to what you’re suggesting” or “ok, I don’t want to discuss” and so on, all depending on the receiver of the ‘ok’

I’m hiding behind the screen because I’m uncomfortable facing you

This is where it all go wrong. Talking without facing the one you’re communicating with is comfortable and free of confronting conflicts. This is a major reason for why many managers turn to e-mails and now WhatsApp to communicate difficult messages that will hurt or anger the recipient

And this is where leaders separate themselves from managers in my view. True people leaders are very aware of the importance of facing people when dealing with sensitive matters that will upset the other part. Leaders know the importance of body language and tone of voice, and know difficult conversations must be taken directly to defuse potential conflicts and to make sure the other party truly understand the message

I think WhatsApp is a brilliant and very fast tool for daily communication and I spend hours daily whatsapping away – but I also try my level best to wary of difficult situations and make sure that these are taken offline, either face to face or on the phone where, theoretically, at least 38% + 7% of my intensions are received and understood

I have yet to see a technology that effectively replaces the value of direct human interaction