Photo by Jhaymesisviphotography
“From now on, if there’s a change of plans you need to TALK to me—as in, you need to speak words, with your mouth, in my ear!”
I was not trying to be snarky—really. It was worth reminding my 14-year-old daughter what it means to “talk.” After all, today’s teen could easily swap the word “talk” with “get in touch,” which of course includes rapidly firing away misspelled words from a tiny phone keyboard.
Texting is second nature for my daughters and their friends—it’s like breathing, something they can do without really thinking.
Maybe that was the problem.
The new “talk to me” rule came about following a minor mother-daughter texting snafu. Q had asked, via text, if she and a friend could go somewhere, then she either missed my response (actually or “conveniently”), or she only read the first, not the second, sentence in my response. Either way, our line of communication was muddled.
I could write an entire post about the challenges of parenting teenagers, and another post about the pros and cons of parenting kids with cell phones. But what I really want to address today is all that is lost when our communications—parental or otherwise—are typed rather than spoken. Here are just a few thoughts that have come to mind this week:
- Intention gets lost in the interest of brevity. This is especially the case when we are typing on our phones, whether we’re texting or tweeting—what we’re saying and why we’re saying it get separated, like a pair of socks in the laundry room. In the case of texts with my daughter, there tends to be a bluntness that’s not couched in the love and concern I would communicate in person, either through additional words or facial expressions.
- Attention suffers when we aren’t actively engaged in real time. When two people are in conversation face-to-face, eye contact keeps them anchored, but even conversations over the phone demand a certain level of real-time response that keeps people engaged. If we’re only half engaged in a typed communication, which is usually the case for me, we’re probably devoting only about half of our mental and emotional faculties to making the exchange successful.
- When we’re hiding behind our computers and phones, we tend to type things we wouldn’t say. And I’m not talking about things like LOL. I’m talking about name-calling, attacks, and general rudeness. Recently I read something somewhere about how people turn into different creatures in their cars, acting out aggressive, rude behaviors that they would never display in a restaurant or grocery store. It’s as if the vehicle protects them somehow, creating a shield of anonymity. The same phenomenon seems to hover around Facebook and other forms of social media. Just consider blog comments that come across as attacks, like the one I wrote about earlier this week. The commenter was able to communicate in a rude way while hiding behind the anonymity of his/her handle: “Lovedandforgiven.” Perhaps this person would say the same things to my face, but I doubt it.
- Typed communications are easier to ignore. Sometimes, like in the case of Lovedandforgiven, the choice not to respond is a wonderful thing. But I also sense it’s becoming a broader, distressing pattern, simply because it’s an easy, available option. Twenty years ago, people didn’t often have the option of ignoring someone who was trying to communicate with them. We had to respond. And even if the response served to shut that person out—perhaps an unwanted admirer—we were far more likely to share clear communications than we were to send a clear message (which in most cases ends up being a passive-aggressive, silent one).
- And finally, details and subtleties get lost along the way. I’m not suggesting that speaking a conversation is a fool-proof method for getting everything right. But live conversations do allow more opportunities for questions and follow up—if there’s a misunderstanding, it’s more likely to get cleared up when people are talking. When we type our communications—whether via email, text or social media—those opportunities for questions and followup get shut down. I’m much less likely to ask “What do you mean?” when I’m not sure I understand. I’m also slower to sense when I’m being misunderstood (which means I offer fewer preventative clarifications). This was definitely at play in the recent miscommunication with my daughter, and it’s also something I experience regularly with clients in my copywriting business. Picking up the phone to ask a question or two is always more thorough, fruitful and efficient than sending the same questions in an email.
Maybe the real issue is that our typed communications tend to be a lot like the election-season sound-bites we’re all-too familiar with: At first they seem full of meaning, but when you unpack them you discover ideas that have been taken out of context and can’t be backed up. They’re just a bunch of words that dissolve when you try to really grasp them. All of our typed words are at risk of being like that, which makes it seem like a good time to instill a “talk to me” policy in other areas of my life, beyond parenting.
Do you have ideas about how to make sure your communications actually say what they mean and mean what they say?