Stop Messaging, Start Communicating

Messaging v. Communication

Message: ‘Any notice, word, or communication, written or verbal, sent from one person to another.’ [Webster’s Dictionary]

Electronic messaging offers remote ‘transmit and receive’ facilities in a transactional manner. The content may be subject to constraints e.g. the number of characters that can be used. A messaging ‘conversation’ consists of one or more set piece moves, rather like a chess game. Person A sends a message. It’s delivered to all intents and purposes instantly. Person B reads it, and if necessary replies with an answer at a time of their choosing.

People maintain a high degree of control over the process when messaging others. If an angry response is received for example, there is time to carefully word a reply; or there is the option to simply ignore the response completely; or even to claim the message was never received.

Communication: ‘Intercourse by words, letters, or messages; interchange of thoughts or opinions, by conference or other means; conference; correspondence.’ [Webster’s Dictionary]

The options available when messaging – of simply ignoring a response, for example – are not available in a face-to-face conversation, which much more dynamic and immediate than the set-piece world of messaging. Some communication can be achieved via a series of messages. But messaging is a very poor vehicle for meaningful communication – and most ‘difficult’ conversations are very meaningful.

Meaningful communication:

  • Is genuinely two-way, not simply a broadcast based on the assumption that no reply indicates understanding or acceptance;
  • Is fluid and evolves unpredictably, with neither party in complete control of the content, the flow or the outcome;
  • Uses an array of mechanisms to convey meaning, with body language, and voice tone being much more important that the words used.

In fact, 55% of communication is visual (body language, eye contact) and 38% is vocal (pitch, speed, volume, tone of voice).

When messaging, we are relying on the meagre 7% of communication which is delivered by the words we use. And that’s why things go so badly wrong when we rely on messaging to deliver meaningful communication.

6 thoughts on “Stop Messaging, Start Communicating

  1. I heartily agree with the argument in this post, having also experienced a number of bosses who used the few then available mechanisms (pre-email and, thankfully, text) to avoid ‘difficult’ conversations, announcements and interactions; this always caused bad feeling and resentment and undermined respect and loyalty both to them and the organisation. The medium of communication is as important as the detailed content, the prime example being ‘body language’ in face-to-face interaction. If a person has the courage and honesty to deliver a message directly, in person, and persevere (or endure) through the associated anxiety and real or perceived physical risk, they show themselves to be Human and at least bothered enough to make the effort to face the audience and see it through; they earn a degree of respect, probably quite a lot in most cases. By contrast, the less the effort and risk required by the medium, the less relationship investment is perceived by the receiver, probably to the detriment of the relationship.
    I was brought up and educated in an environment in which you were expected to write important letters by hand, in ink, neatly and on good paper (or at least to salute and sign in ink manuscript), and this was echoed by my basic officer training in the Royal Navy in the mid-1980s; I believe some of this formality remains even now. This was explicitly to show the recipient that you appreciated the importance of the interaction and that you were willing to go to some trouble to communicate with them, similarly to dressing tidily for an actual meeting. I still feel very complemented by friends who actually take the trouble to write me a letter, rather than the usual text or email.
    It’s a while since I’ve seen the old florist’s slogan: “say it with flowers”. I think it’s unlikely that Interflora will ever replace this with “say it with %>” [txt flowers], though I have met a couple of blokes who thought that would do instead for their girlfriends… those relationships didn’t last !

  2. … I’ve just recalled a conversation I overheard between two young lads at college today, discussing having arguments and arranging to have a fight with somebody – via Facebook!
    My concern about this is whether they’re likely to wind the situation up into a much more serious one than if they’d sorted the argument, and perhaps the actual fight, earlier, facing up to each other rather than upping the ante online first… if it’s a trend, worrying.
    Would ‘leaders’ used to this way of doing things be more likely to go to war?

  3. Thank you, Spincop, for another thought provoking essay. I agree with and recognise many of your observations. However I do disagree with your suggestion to ‘fight tooth and nail against the achievement of this end-game’ [the end-game being the almost obsessive or constant use of instant electronic communication instead of often difficult face to face communications].

    I started my career in 1990 in a department of 15 with a ‘386’ and a beast in the corner with 5.25” disks. I’ve recently finished working with a specialist team within a finance function of a major multinational company. My clients are in their late 20s and 30s. They sat in meetings keeping one eye on, or even using, mobile devices – often 2 per person. Keeping to a structured agenda was usually impossible.

    I realised I needed to adapt my way of working, and to go with the flow a bit more than I found comfortable, rather than ask for devices to be turned off. I found we were able to cover all the topics and decide on the necessary actions. It really hit home when I came to document the meetings – I usually ended up following the structure set out in the agenda and not the stream of consciousness I had scribbled on my own mobile device, a paper pad.

    So why do I disagree with the suggestion to fight? Frankly because I think the battle is over. We may not like it, but we have to live with it.

    I was pleased to find with my finance team it was still possible to have conversations about the messages they wanted or needed to convey. And also about getting them to consider what communication channel they preferred and what the person they were intending to communicate with might prefer. This was where the option of a difficult face to face conversation could be suggested and even role played.

    For me, this has made me think again about the challenges of attempting to cause of influence culture change… rather than what I think are symptomatic behaviours within that culture.

  4. I think this is basically human nature – it is simply that electronic communication has provided an easy way out for people. I have rarely ever shirked away from telling people what I think (other than perhaps with some members of my family) and I generally prefer to do that face to face. But my sense is that most people like to avoid confrontation and there is an expectation that ‘difficult conversations’ will lead to that, when in fact, quite often they can improve the climate within an organisation or team. From what I have observed, it gets worse the higher you get in an organisation…….it seems to me that very few senior managers are able/or willing to create the time or the setting to have really good quality conversations with their direct reports. Having said that there is nothing wrong with a text or e-mail – it is all about the most appropriate form of communication for the message you are trying to convey at that time. I believe that people like to know where they stand so regular feedback and dialogue is very important. One observation I would make is that it is harder to talk to people these days – diaries seem to be clogged up with back to back meetings or teleconference calls – so the benefit of writing an e-mail is that you get it off your ‘to-do’ list.

    I am sure there are benefits to be had from investing in conversations – if you could quantify it and demonstrate the impact on an organisation then you might start to change behaviour.

  5. Interesting stuff Stopcop – On the one hand you can’t beat either looking someone in the eye for a conversation, or failing that, speaking to them directly. Somehow electronic communication has become so easy – it it the lazy persons preferred method of communication?
    On the other hand, here we all are, using social media to communicate – how hypocritical are we all?
    I guess the real answer is that there is room for both, and used appropriately, they can both be useful, but not good if used in the wrong situation.
    (By the way – I know and like Darren Waters and would validate his claims about his communication style )

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s