Having Real Conversations
Do all the options provided by technology enhance or diminish our ability to communicate?
By Gord O’Coin, Regional Director, Sudbury Member Centre
Communication is something we do every day. Some experts estimate that 50 to 80 percent of our day is spent communicating with those around us, depending on the kind of work we do.
Whether we are reading a message, commenting on a digital platform, speaking, writing, or listening, we are constantly communicating. With all our devices, technology has increased our ability to communicate with anyone at any time. We can quickly and quite easily connect via email or text and almost eliminate the need to converse with someone in person or by phone.
Sending an email or text is easy and feels less intrusive than calling someone on the phone. Sometimes, we may even get a quicker response this way.
But do these options provided by technology enhance or diminish our ability to communicate?
I was recently listening to a podcast by author and radio journalist Celeste Headlee about 10 ways to have better conversations. She says there are three components of meaning in our language, which come from vocabulary, tone, and body language.
When we don’t have all these components in our communication, we aren’t able to receive the entire message. Different parts of our brain pick up on the various components, and when all the components are present, we have a significantly higher ability to understand the message.
When we use the easy, less intrusive email, text, or other written communication, we lose two of the three components. Our ability to communicate using tone and body language are completely gone.
This makes sense. Have you ever opened an email or received a text and wondered what’s wrong with this person or feeling slightly attacked or angered, only to find out later that the message wasn’t meant in the way you originally thought?
Speaking with someone on the phone at least provides two out of the three components of meaning: vocabulary and tone. While not perfect, it at least provides us the ability to pick up on two-thirds of the conversation.
The ultimate way to really gain the full grasp of a conversation is to do so face to face. If that’s not possible, use Facetime or Zoom or some other application where you are able to converse with all components.
We often think that sending an email or a text saves time and is more convenient. But it doesn’t provide a clear picture of what it being expressed or what we really need to share.
Studies have shown that we need to be cautious with written communication as we are often the worst version of ourselves when we write, especially on digital platforms. It’s easier to unintentionally escalate a conflict when tone and body language aren’t available.
While email and text certainly have their uses, on some occasions, to have a real conversation with someone, take the time to call and speak with the person. Better yet, sit down for a coffee or beer with them to make sure you are communicating more effectively.