This is part II of a series on communications in the digital age. If you missed the introduction you can read it here.
As often happens I wrote this series and communication issues rose up around me. In the past several days I have read and heard so much on communication and miscommunication that I could fill volumes. We are communicating more than ever but also misfiring at rapidly increasing rates. The rise of digital combined with multi-generational perspectives have added complex layers to not only the content and methodology of our conversations but how we interpret them.
What is communication?
In my ninth grade English class we were asked to write instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We were to write the instructions for someone who was from a foreign country who had never made a PB&J sandwich. Many giggled and called the assignment stupid but with each question the depth of the assignment became clear. The challenge of communication is not simply getting the words right but putting them in the right context and making them accessible to those who may not share our same set of experiences.
Communication: a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
The goal of communication then is obviously to not only be heard (or read) but understood. Note that the definition is not limited to language but includes behavior.
Our capacity to communicate has expanded but our exchange process has transformed. The danger of an over reliance on digital short form communication is the fractured nature of exchanges, the absence of other signs and behavior and the other subtleties that allow us to communicate and be understood in voice to voice and face to face interactions. Language, whether written, spoken or signed is enriched by behaviors that deepen the communication with feeling. Yes, feeling. At the heart of communication lies emotion, even when we communicate facts there is intent to evoke a response that is both intellectual and emotional.
Digital communication does not always strip communication of emotion but there is a greater risk when there are no other signals to validate intent. It is for this reason that I often advise business professionals to address complex issues via phone or face to face rather than email. Far too often I have witnessed an unnecessary and ugly protracted email exchange that could have been resolved in a 10 minute phone call.
The lack of human interaction for some gives them “textual courage” leading them to say things that they would temper in a face-to-face or voice-to-voice exchange.
The solution is not to refrain from digital communications but to become proficient in all forms of communications and that includes choosing the right channels.
Do you have a preferred communication channel (email, text, phone or other)? Have you found that there are times when your preferred channel is not the best channel for communicating?
Please stay tuned for the next post in this series. Your feedback and suggestions are warmly welcomed. If you have specific questions or ideas you’d like to see addressed please let me know.
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- The Communication Matrix and Seven Levels of Communication (teachinglearnerswithmultipleneeds.blogspot.com)
- EmotionML: Will computers tap into your feelings? (news.cnet.com)