I had a relatively important meeting a few weeks ago. I had to speak to some people that I wanted to make a good impression on. I met with them, and I thought it went rather well, but afterwards I realized I was putting on a “face” the whole time, trying to impress rather than being genuine.
Fast forward to a few weeks later, and the feedback that I got about the meeting was that they liked me, but felt like I was “robotic.” That my conversation, while it was well received, had the impression of being “canned”. It felt like I wasn’t being human.
People Don’t Like Robots
Think of the last time you called a support phone number. If you’re like me, as soon as the robot starts talking, you hit zero until you get a person.
People prefer to talk to a human – someone that they feel can understand them, empathize with them, and communicate naturally with them. They don’t want to put in the effort of trying to learn a “system” so that they can get what they need, they want to communicate their needs in their own way and have them interpreted.
Robots Are Efficient
As a software guy, the engineer in me screams out “waste!” every time a messy conversation with a human occurs. We humans need to get in tune with another’s method of communicating, with their emotional state, and with the topic at hand when we get into a conversation. All of this takes time. There’s a reason every business meeting starts with discussing the weather.
Computers can avoid this messiness. They get right down to business, and don’t bother with understanding the emotional state of the user. At first glance, this seems like a win. But over time, we start to alienate the humans.
The Coming Humanization
In the service and support industry lately, there’s been a trend toward getting humans back involved in interactions with other humans. Companies seem awesome if they say “you don’t need to talk to a robot to deal with us!”
Entrepreneurs are being advised to do likewise. Paul Graham’s Do Things that Don’t Scale essay really struck a nerve with engineering types that want to automate everything they can. It helps teams empathize with and understand their customers. And the results are invaluable for growing a business. Besides, sometimes automation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be:
These trends are encouraging. They show that we’re starting to learn the difference between automating human processes (something computers are good at), and automating human interactions (which computers suck at). Maybe Turing was on to something.
Theory and Practice
In theory, people want to see the best side that you have. They don’t want to see the imperfections, and they will be annoyed if you are not efficient, logical, and perfect. In practice, people relate better to people, warts and all. So Be Human. Don’t go down the path of trying to automate your interaction with others. In fact, when talking with people, don’t do anything but be yourself. Being genuine is almost always the best way to go. Just ask any robot.
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