Communication – What Method to Use?

               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.  

 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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  1. #1 by Noble3 on July 17, 2012 - 6:07 am

    Well said! Couldn’t have said it better myself. I often tell people that there are three kinds of communication: what you say, the words that come out of your mouth, and what the other person hears. Merging those three can be challenging for those who don’t understand the difference. It can be challenging even when you do. Thanks for the insight today. Midshipmen will see this.

    • #2 by The Professional Development Team on July 17, 2012 - 8:54 am

      Thank you Noble. I really appreciate the fact that you will share this message with mids. It is important they recognize how their communication will be received.

  2. #3 by JT Pedersen on July 17, 2012 - 6:48 pm

    Lori,

    Nice piece. Your observations of the move toward ever-more print is unarguable. I think of my eldest daughter. Phone call: no answer. Email: maybe an answer. SMS: Near instantaneous response. 🙂

    Toward the end you certainly hit a chord with me. When an email thread goes astray, you can often watch as the responses start to snowball. The end result is rarely positive or productive. The easiest way to avert crisis and hurt feelings is to simply pick up the phone. “Hi Sue, this email thing’s off course, thought I’d pick up the phone and give you a call…”

    Cheers

    • #4 by The Professional Development Team on July 17, 2012 - 9:12 pm

      Thank you JT! Why do you think that people take so long to get to the point of actually talking face to face? We all seem to recognize the issue but it is still a problem.

      • #5 by JT Pedersen on July 18, 2012 - 11:36 am

        Written communication allows for a arms-length interaction. There are two sides. One one, writing allows us to procrastinate, delay, and slow the deluge in some cases. On the other side, we gain the time to think, provide higher quality responses in some cases. ‘Writing,’ particularly email, may also be the single biggest enabler behind feeling as though we’ve actually ‘accomplished’ something. It’s real easy to spend an entire ‘work day’ doing nothing but email.

        But why take so long? If you start out in an arms-length discussion, you have a tendency to want to keep it at arms-length. Especially if the topic is turning ugly; why make it more personal and close-in?

        This may simply be one of those things that requires life experience for each person to come to appreciate.

        Cheers

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