Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 8, 2013

Is There a Dehumanizing Impact From Social Media?

Filed under: Communication,Sales 2.0,technology — Paul McCord @ 12:37 pm
Tags: , ,

Last week I wrote a post about the many emails I get from sales trainers asking me to post their articles on my blog but who, rather than recognizing that they are in a sales situation, take a completely self-centered approach to making the request.  These are presumably smart individuals that have simply forgotten what they know about sales and make the most basic selling mistake possible—making it all about themselves.

But I’ve noticed this “all about me” attitude is creeping into many other places such as responses to blog posts, on forums, and in Facebook and Twitter discussions.  Worse, I’ve noticed a gradual coarsening of language.

Certainly much of the above has existed for quite some time in the realm of political and sports discourse on social media, but slowly over time this self-centeredness and rudeness seems to be creeping into the normal everyday discourse including, on occasion, sales discourse—and not just between sellers but with customers or potential customers also.

With this observation comes the natural question of what’s the cause and remedy?

Is the cause a callusing of our culture?  Is it the impersonal nature of the technology?  Or as the world becomes more hectic and our lives become more demanding are we simply unconsciously reacting by becoming more self-centered?

I can certainly see that any or all of the above could be a catalyst for the obnoxious behavior we are seeing more of on social media—as well as other technology such as email, text messaging, and such.

I suspect the majority of the behavior and the attitude the behavior emanates from comes primarily from the dehumanizing impact of the technology itself.  More and more we find ourselves interacting with machines rather than people—and it is easy to divorce ourselves from the human on the other and focus on the medium; and once we start talking to the medium instead of a person it isn’t that difficult to toss aside the normal rules of human interaction, for after all, we are no longer dealing with a person but an impersonal, unfeeling machine.

Or maybe it is a sense that we have virtually the freedom of anonymity as we often know little or nothing about the other person or persons we are addressing; they aren’t people but just disembodied words that show up on a forum, a text message, a tweet, or an email..

Certainly we don’t encounter the above behavior on a regular basis—at least not at this point.

But I am concerned.

Technology is a very useful tool—but simply a tool, not a replacement for human interaction.  More than once I’ve been visiting with a salesperson who texted their manager or another seller who was no more than 10 feet away.  Slowly face-to-face or even phone interaction is being replace with the idea that a text message is quicker—and who wants to get into a conversation when a question can be asked and answered in seconds rather than minutes?

While visiting with one seller, she sent an email to her manager asking a rather detailed question.  I asked her why she just didn’t pick up the phone and get the answer without having to wait for a response to her email.  She said that if she called her manager she’d have to answer questions about this prospect or that deal and she just didn’t like having to answer all those questions–and email and text messaging kept her boss away—it was a very real insulator from having to interact with another human..

Are the rules of interaction changing due to technology?  Are we slowly losing our human-ness, at least as we’ve known it?  Is there really a dehumanizing impact to social media and communication technology?

I would love to see a solution, but based on the history of social media in other areas I suspect the trend will continue.  Possibly the most I can hope for is that the trend be slow.  The good news is that there will always be a segment of users who will not forget that the technology is nothing more than the medium and that the real focus is the other person.  Hopefully that segment will always be the vast majority.  In the long run, I’m not sure it will be.

Follow me on Twitter: @paul_mccord


  1. Paul, I agree that there is an increasing dehumanizing facet of social media which is ironic given its tag-line. Fighting this problem with words alone is probably not a realistic solution. Perhaps we should be looking for ways to integrate a more personal touch into our social media tool. For example, the people you follow and respect the most – give them a call once in a while. A three to five minute conversation will reinforce your claim to humanity. Even leaving a “voice” message of 10 – 15 seconds lets the other party know you are reaching out and that knowledge alone makes you different.

    There are other ideas – let’s continue to explore!

    Comment by Tom Rochford — January 8, 2013 @ 1:18 pm | Reply

    • Tom, I think you’re right–that human toudh of a real connection is mandatory. I know it is impossible to have a phone conversation with everyone we meet online, but as you point out, making sure we reach out to as many as possible is key to staying in tough with our humanity as we engage online.

      Comment by Paul McCord — January 8, 2013 @ 1:36 pm | Reply

  2. I heard a young mother the other week state that their family went bowling. Their 6 1/2 year old daughter got very upset, because she could not master the game in an hour, because at home on the WII she wins all the time. Technology is great, however, the human factor should be the lead. I blame my generation for much of this rudeness within the 20-30 something group…not all, but most. We gave them almost everything they wanted and maybe slacked off at bit when it came to manners like (thank you cards, customer is always right, how to dress for success, or court, interviews, etc…)

    Comment by Joanne — January 8, 2013 @ 1:50 pm | Reply

  3. Paul, I couldn’t agree with you more. I find myself getting caught in that trap as well – it’s just ‘quicker, easier’ to send an email than TALK with someone.

    Though sales are being made without a voice conversation, my belief is that they aren’t building the connection that will lead to further sales and referrals.

    I am concerned the conversation/communication skills are being ignored when schools are encouraging the students to bring all the technology with them to classes (starting in middle school in our area). Like so many other tools, social media and technology are great aids to get something done, but we can’t forget the basic human need to talk and converse and really be listened to.

    Comment by Nancy Bleeke — January 8, 2013 @ 6:34 pm | Reply

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