We live in a fast paced world of constant communication. We have more ways to communicate with people than we have ever experienced throughout history. While this has many advantages, the influx of modes of communication has added obstacles to successful communication. To be effective communicators, we must take the time to master various methods of communicating and the most challenging form, for many, is written communication. Various situations and different relationships all affect the manner in which we communicate and we must be mindful of how we approach conversations. Let’s take a look at some of the most common challenges we face with written communication.
Communication Barriers – Precipitating Factors:
When we send a message, we forget that the recipient has a life. Maybe their kid just vomited on their white carpet or their boss just added another project to their plate or they had a flat tire or…you get the picture. Remember when we were old school and we’d give someone a jingle and actually speak to them? How did we start that conversation? They said, “Hello”, we assessed their tone and listened for background noise. If it sounded hectic or they sounded stressed, we’d say, “Is this a good time?” or “would you like to call me back”. But by text or email that isn’t an option. We send a message and we expect an appropriate response because, after all, the person has time to think about what they are writing. AND, in this world of immediacy, as the recipient of the message, we read and feel the need to respond immediately instead of ensuring we are in a good place when we open a message and when we respond. As the sender of the message, we also expect this immediacy. When we send a message, we get frustrated if there isn’t a response quickly. After all, isn’t that the point of text? We want quick communication without all the fluff of an actual conversation that takes too much time out of our busy day! Recognizing that people may be in a different place than you and be understanding. If a text appears snarky, maybe check and ask if the sender would like to chat later. Or maybe inquire as to if there is a way to help.
Communication Barriers –Tone:
When we write a text or an email, our tone is affected by our word choice. When we speak, we have the ability to soften words or place emphasis on one word or another. In written communication, there is no intonation of voice or body language to aid the execution of the message. The tools we normally rely on to assist us with our message and the emotion behind our message are suddenly not available. So, when we write a text or an email, we must read that email from various perspectives. We must think through the lens of a reader, THE specific reader. What words did we choose? Did we use more formal words in a more familiar conversation? Did our word choice communicate very direct conversation? If your reader is incredibly sensitive, you need to think about what you are typing. If your reader is your jerky boss, you need to think about those words in your text and how he or she may misconstrue them (and use them against you later!). Word choice is an important nuance in our language and in written communication, it is paramount to your message being received as intended.
Communication Barriers – Cadence:
In speech, cadence is the rate of speech. Similarly, in written communication, the equivalency to cadence would be literary terms such as staccato. You know what I mean and I can bet most of you have done this! Enter staccato text: tx, yw, ily, ikr or even Thanks, Okay, Yes, No. Think about this…in verbal communication, we rarely respond in one-word answers (that is if we aren’t a prepubescent child!). What if your spouse or significant other, or boss responded in this manner? Look at this conversation and imagine that this was happening verbally. How well do you think this would play out?
Boss: Hey, John, how did that sales call go?
Boss: Do they plan to sign up?
Boss: I thought you said it went well. What happened?
Employee: I don’t know
Let me help you…this would not play out well! Yet, this is the type of text conversations that happen all the time. We’ve got Johnny One-Word employee who is responding in staccato language and a boss who is seeking information. Imagine how this guys boss feels. This is terribly frustrating for the receiver of these messages. Remember the point to text or email is communicating a message and an exchange should provide the information to complete a conversation. Use more words and be descriptive in your texts. Ensure when you read what you are writing, you feel the recipient will have a clear understanding of the conversation.
Communication Barriers – Volume:
In verbal speech, we can modulate the volume of our voice. In text, we can do something similar. We can type in all caps to yell or with no caps, which to me indicates laziness or indifference. Don’t yell at people if you aren’t angry. Don’t be lazy with capital letters unless you truly are!
Communication Barriers – Recognizing Relationships:
Let’s be honest, I always like to say that I talk to my kids differently at church than I do at home. The same goes for written communication. I speak to my boss differently than I do to people that work for me and differently than I do people who are more familiar like my children, significant other or family. Sometimes that difference causes issues in more familiar relationships. When we aren’t aware or deem the importance of volume, cadence, tone and take into account the precipitating factors, our communication may cause hurt feelings or disagreements. Understanding the needs of the reader is important to the success of a written exchange.
In reality, when we want to be good communicators, texting or emailing seems to be more work than picking up the phone! Sometimes, it is and picking up the phone would be the right thing to do. But, if we can take a few moments to read what we write prior to hitting send, written communication can be a key to productivity and efficiency. And, after taking notice of how you are communicating, correcting the issues above will become second nature. And, don’t forget the power of an emoji! Emoji’s are the equivalent to a “just kidding” or “no big deal”. Emoji’s are not just for kids.
So, how do you get started?
- Read your email over before sending it. Don’t be in such a hurry to hit send.
- Think about your recipient.
- If the recipient is someone you know…think about their life and what may be happening in their world.
- Think about how you verbally would respond to a text and how you can communicate your message so it is received appropriately.
- Know when it would just be better to pick up the phone. You can always summarize a conversation in writing if you want written documentation.
In the end, you are responsible for the message and how it’s received. If something is misinterpreted, own the fact that you communicated the message poorly. Communication is the key to any successful relationship. Keep working to communicate in a better way and you will see that the results are worth the effort.
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