Text or talk?—The importance of non-verbal communication
An acquaintance of mine, Joe, shared with me his irritation with a friend. He planned to get together this weekend with a buddy. Joe texted him—“Just reminding you of our date.” He texted back—“When are you arriving and when are you leaving?” Joe texted back—“Do you still want me to come? We can make it another time.” His friend texted---“OK, we’ll get together later this summer.” Joe was confused. Did his friend want to get together or not?
Joe felt hurt and disappointed. All of this communication was based on digital communication of 50 characters or less! Neither Joe nor his friend thought to pick up the phone and actually talk to each other!
How many times have you felt hurt or disappointed by a friend because of a text?
It’s so easy to dash off a sentence or two and change a date, express a feeling, or disconnect. Today, some folks break up via digital text! Why bother actually talking in person when you can type off a “Dear John” text? You can probably tell that I am over 50. I will freely admit that I rarely text anyone. But I do know that complex communication requires extensive “non-verbal” cues to help us understand what we actually mean. Tone of voice brings meaning to “Let’s meet sometime later this summer.” Is it said curtly, with an annoyed tone? Or is said with a warm, loving pitch? Even just adding sound to communication opens up our appreciation of the message.
Crazy busy (that’s going to be my new buzz word for modern life) adults add “smiley faces”, “frowning faces”, or LOL to text messages to provide more meaning. But sometimes it’s still not enough.
Email can evoke the same confusion. I had a back and forth email volley with a staff member. I realized that we needed to hear each other’s voices, see each other's face, and look each other in the eye. We did—and everything became clear. Sometimes, emailers will CAPITALIZE EACH WORD IN A SENTENCE. What the heck does that mean? Does it mean she’s mad? Or does he just want to get my attention?
Did you ever send an angry email to someone? The next think you know it’s sent to everyone in creation. It makes you look bad and brings bystanders into a dispute. It sucks. Don’t write emails when you are annoyed. I’ve learned that they hard way. I bet you have too.
Digital communication is great for meeting someone at the airport—“I’ve landed” or “I’ll be ten minutes late”, or “What should I pick up at the supermarket?”. For those messages, texting is far more efficient than a conversation. Texting can also be a way of avoiding conflict, confrontation, and awkwardness. “Can’t make it tonight” via text avoids the whys, how comes, and wherefores. It gives the sender an easy out. It also limits the receiver’s response.
If you are confused, pick up the phone. If you think, it is important to add sound to your words, do it! Actually getting together in real time and real space may be the best way to communicate! Body language adds even more meaning to complex communication. Facial expression, position of one’s body, and arrangement of arms and legs provides the listener with multiple cues as to the real significance and intent of a message. Non-verbal communication fills in the blanks left by lifeless words on a screen.