The Communication Choice Dilemma

Don’t we sometimes wish things were simpler from a communications standpoint? Think about it. What were the primary means of person-to-person communication 50 years ago? Telephone, face-to-face, hand-written (or typed on a typewriter) letters and… ummmm… isn’t that about it? How about today? Text, email, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, mobile phone, regular phone, LinkedIn, Skype, Facetime, Duo, Whatsapp, Hangout, Slack, fax (yes some people still use fax), letters, and a thousand other tools available to us.

Shifting gears slightly, I have always believed that the root cause of most conflicts is miscommunication. Someone says something and the recipient of a message misinterprets or perceives the message to be something that is misaligned with its intent. Now throw in the speed at which we communicate, and a condensed communication language we use — e.g. instead of typing the word “you” you use “u”, or other shortened terms like LOL, cya, fml and many others. Also throw in voice to text technology and autocorrect, and you can see how communication between people can breakdown really quickly. Oh, and before I forget, add the fact that we communicate less by face-to-face and by voice so we lose the ability to evaluate tone, body language cues and immediately clarify confusions that may arise. When you’re on the phone with someone you can immediately ask a clarification question but when you’re texting you are forced to interpret garbled communication.

I have always prided myself on being thorough with how I communicate, regardless of the platform I use. I tend to edit most text-based messages to avoid any potential miscommunication. I do use shortened words like LOL but, for the most part, prefer to use full words. However, it’s not always perfect. Recently I took part in a Slack conversation where I responded to a specific question that was posed by one of my peers. I didn’t realize until hours later that a handful of people took exception to the questions I asked and comments I made. They perceived my line of questionining to be inappropriate, which was never my intent at all. I love this particular Slack group and the value it has brought to its members so I was definitely taken back by this reaction. What I realized was that I may have misinterpreted the original question that was asked, and that my responding questions and comments were perceived to be too direct. My direct approach was perceived to be condescending and inappropriate, even though that was not my intent.

So What’s the Moral of the Story?

Honestly, I have no clue. The number of communication channels that we use on a daily basis will not be decreasing any time soon unless we fully adopt bots to communicate for us. So all we can do is be more mindful of what we’re saying to each other and how it may be interpreted and perceived. For me, taking a pause before responding will really help. This actually a form of active listening, which is likely foreign to many of us. We’re so used to communicating at lightning speed, pausing and really trying to understand what other people are saying is not a comfortable skill. But, we still need to do it. I need to do more of it.

We also need to constantly evaluate our communication methods. While we need to be flexible and open to using new tools so that we don’t get left behind, we still need to evaluate whether or not a specific tool works for us. Personally, I love Slack. I love how Slack can integrate into so many other tools that I use on a daily basis. However, I know its limitations in terms of my ability to fully understand messages. So, for me, while I have no plans to stop using Slack, I need to ensure that I take a little bit more time to fully understand messages that are read on Slack. While not perfect it will help.

There really isn’t much of a point to this post other than to raise awareness to an issue that impacts everyone. Technology is getting better and better each day, but the rules of communication have not changed. So long as people communicate with one another the long-standing rules of communication such as active listening, empathy, respect, tone and clarity will apply. Let’s not forget about this.

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