The three main types of communication are verbal, non-verbal and written. What fascinates me is the trend of the world to migrate away from verbal and non-verbal towards written. Many people will question my last statement since writing a letter is a rare occurrence, but written also includes texting and email. With that clarification, I’m sure you will agree with my earlier statement. Why is it we are now so fixated on communicating via email or texting versus picking up a phone or talking face to face? In fact, I have witnessed a large aversion to verbal communication. Why is that?
There are a lot of other articles and research dedicated to the effectiveness of various types of communication. Lists of advantages and disadvantages to email or phone calls are readily available. My point is responsibility. I believe that emailing and texting are more conducive to removing responsibility from the conversation. Don’t get me wrong – I email and text all day long; so I’m in this boat, too! The point is, when we email or when we text, it is a one-way conversation. We are able to write out our own thoughts and feelings exactly how we understand them and send them out into the void. How our words are received is no longer in mind. The assumption is the reader will understand the message.
Think about a time you sent an email or a text message that was misunderstood. The person on the other end misinterpreted your message or was offended by your words. How did they react? Probably badly. How did you react to their reaction? That is a tougher question. In my own case, I am usually confused by the other person’s emotion. I may get defensive of my own email or text because.. well.. it made sense to me! Basically, in that scenario, I have all the answers – I knew exactly what I meant in my original written communication. Unfortunately, the other person is really out of the loop since they are not inside my head. At this point, we should pick up the phone or walk over and switch to verbal communication; however that doesn’t seem to happen very much.
Again, I believe it comes back to responsibility. When we text or email, it is possible we try to shift the responsibility of the message to the other person. They are supposed to understand! If we have to repeat or message or say it verbally to someone, it takes on a different tone. Now that the words come out of our mouths, we internalize the message. The message is now our own to convey and take ownership. This can be uncomfortable for some people because of the content of the message (saying something hurtful) or because we are not really believers of the message ourselves (passing along tasking from a manager). As humans, we take the easier route, which means opting for the path of less responsibility – at least it seems like it. Maybe we should stop and think about that the next time there is an email chain a mile long or texting turns into a thumb war.
CEO, The Professional Development Team