Texts & Post-Its; we can do better!

There is a famous scene from the show Sex in the City when Carrie Bradshaw’s boyfriend, Jack Berger, breaks up with her….over a Post-It. No explanation, no conversation, just the words “I’m sorry. I can’t. Don’t hate me.” It’s hard not to, Jack; not exactly the most courageous way to handle a tough conversation.

It’s certainly not as dramatic, but texting, in a way, has become a version of that well-known Post-It; for break-ups, yes (hopefully not often), but also for communication in general. Texting is efficient and immediate, and a great way to deliver a message when you (or the person receiving it) is in a hurry. For Millennials, texting is replacing conversation as the ideal method of communication; a poll of 4,000 18-34 year-olds taken last year by business solutions firm Live Person found that nearly 75% of respondents preferred texting to in-person conversation. The influence is not just generational, either; Boomers and Gen-Xers are embracing texting for both personal and business communication more and more every day.

But there is a limit to the effectiveness of texting, and those limits are hurting our ability to effectively communicate with each other. It’s hard to expound or add detail in a text when trying to keep things under 160 characters. Specifics can be missed and important data can be left out. Most importantly, you can’t read context in a text message.

Communication is 93% non-verbal. Our voice, tone, energy level and body language account for the the vast majority of how we communicate. Language, the words we use, only counts for 7%. Our words matter, but how we deliver those words matters much more, and we lose our ability to deliver words when they are typed on a screen. Say you receive a text from your boss that says “Give me a call. Let’s talk about what happened in the meeting today.” How do you read it? Did you nail it? Did you flame out? Does she just want to recap? There’s no way to tell, and you’ll twist yourself up in knots (maybe needlessly) leading up to the call trying to interpret it.

We all get in the habit of relying on the ease and convenience (and sometimes comfort) of text, but there is absolutely a limit to what a text can communicate and how it should be used. There is not an emoji in the world that can replace vocal tone. No number of exclamation points can equal actually looking someone in the eye when news (good or bad) is delivered. The next time you have something important to say, don’t try to cram it into 160 characters; pick up the phone, or walk down the hall, and have an actual conversation.

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