(By Margie Warrell)
“The irony is that as much as our devices allow us to connect us never before, we are becoming more and more disconnected and losing the art of good old fashioned conversation. You could actually argue we’re becoming increasingly cowardly in how go about addressing the issues that arise in any relationship – personal or professional“.
Jane had worked for a recruitment firm for four years, doubling her area of the business during the time she’d been there. The partners at her firm had been very happy with her, but then one day, completely out of the blue, she gets an email from her boss to saying that she’s lost her staff car park as a cost cutting measure. To compensate, they would, however, subsidize her parking in a nearby public car park. Jane felt angry and disappointed, but most of all she felt hurt that her boss, whom she’d assumed valued her highly, had not made the effort to tell her in person (his office being a full ten steps from her own.)
Peter felt similarly when he received a curt email from his supervisor citing a list of criticisms about his recent client pitch. So, too, did Michelle when she received a short text from a colleague cancelling their 7 am breakfast meeting at 7:05 am. An apologetic call would have made all the difference.
And I’m guessing Katy Perry probably felt all those emotions tenfold when her then-husband, Russell Brand, sent her a text message to say he wanted to end their marriage. While I’m sure he was very busy that day, I would have thought he could have spared five minutes to have at given her a call. Or maybe I’m just old-fashioned.
Opting to send an email or text, when a personal conversation would be so much better, is becoming more and more than norm both in the workplace and outside it. As I wrote in Brave, as revolutionizing communication technology has been in our lives, it’s also provided an all too convenient means of avoiding the real work of communication when it matters most. Wired to avoid discomfort, our devices enable us to avoid the awkwardness that can accompany direct face-to-face (or even voice to voice) communications. It explains why groups of (supposed) friends sitting together often appear more comfortable updating their status on Facebook than engaging with the people right beside them. It’s just less confronting.
The irony is that as much as our devices allow us to connect us never before, we are becoming more and more disconnected and losing the art of good old fashioned conversation. You could actually argue we’re becoming increasingly cowardly in how go about addressing the issues that arise in any relationship – personal or professional.
But playing it safe and avoiding the discomfort of meaningful conversation can exact a steep toll not just on the quality of our relationships, but our ability to influence, to manage conflict, collaborate with others and to the health of our hearts! While there is no set of rules for when to talk versus when to type, there are situations where choosing the latter can damage trust and only make situations worse. Here are five times you should step away from behind the security of your devices and open your mouth.
When you have critical feedback
Sitting behind your computer screen unable to see someone’s emotional reaction can desensitize you to how they are feeling and fuel a false sense of bravado to write things you’d never have the courage to say in person. Unable to see the hurt you’re causing, you care less about it. All the while your written words strip bare any nuance and emotional tone.
While criticizing someone via an email may be less confronting for you, it leaves you wide open to injuring your relationship that will take far more time to repair than any time saved firing off a quick email. Providing feedback in person allows you to read visual cues, tread gently when needed, clarify misunderstanding and immediately address the issues as they arise.
When you feel angry
Sending an email to someone when you are red raging mad is almost guaranteed not to end well. I have “sleep on it” rule myself. While I may compose an email just to have a good vent, I never even type the name of the recipient lest I accidentally press send. Instead I file it as a draft and either sleep on it or give myself at least two hours to cool my jets before rewriting and pressing send. Without exception I always soften my tone, include more pleasantries and remove the heated language that’s guaranteed to raise defenses.
When bowing out of a commitment
If you have to bow out of a commitment, such as cancelling dinner plans, making a call can simply be an act of courtesy that shows you respect the dignity of the other person, even if you no longer want to hang out with them. And needless to say, if you’re ending a relationship (much less a marriage) have the guts to say it, not send it. Katie Perry would have been hurt anyway, but at least she’d have felt a little less betrayed.
When you need to apologize
For an apology to hold any water the person receiving it must feel it’s sincere. Saying sorry via text may be fine if you forgot to water the plants before leaving for work, but it can show a lack of genuine remorse or concern for much anything else. Picking up the phone or apologizing in person also provides the valuable opportunity to show you genuinely care, ask for forgiveness and see if there’s anything you can do to make amends or restore trust in the relationship.
Anytime your words may be misinterpreted
As soon as you begin using text phrases to characterize emotion that would normally be delivered with vocal intonation, subtle nuances, facial expressions and body language, your intended message can be completely misconstrued. So if the person you’re writing to is particularly sensitive about an issue they will be even more prone to putting a negative spin on your words. You can spare yourself a lot of time in damage control by taking extra time up front to pick up the phone or meet in person to ensure the other person hears your message in the most positive way.
So whether it’s calling someone on poor behavior or apologizing for your own, consider where you could be braver in how you communicate. People need to hear what you have to say but they also need to know you care enough to be brave in how you communicate it. So go on, speak bravely.