Are we better at communicating by eMail or by phone...
There’s simply no doubt that we’re in love with our new communications technologies. It’s hard to go anywhere without spotting someone apparently on their own but who turns out to be immersed in a deep conversation with a distant friend. It’s a natural consequence of us being far more able to be in contact with each other than ever before, whether it be by phone, mobile, eMail, instanst messaging and so on.
But does this mean that communication is improving? Does it really mean that our messages are getting through more quickly and clearly than in the past? Or, as many people seem to find, is communication simply hastened?
Take eMail for example:
A recent study by Professors Justin Kruger of New York University and Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago found that, not only do eMail senders overestimate their ability to communicate feelings, but eMail recipients also overestimate their ability to correctly decode those feelings.
Now I think that I’m a reasonable communicator (and don’t we all?) and I spend far too much time lovingly crafting the words that I use in my eMails. So I of course expect that the recipients will do the right thing and read into my messages exactly what I intended that they should. But I’m on thin ice: the good professors also found that:
- eMail lacks cues like facial expression and tone of voice, so making it difficult for the recipient to correctly decode meanings. (I’ve found that my carefully chosen words often come across as officious – even my jokes!)
- eMail is an instantaneous communication, and therefore creates an urgency that pressures us to think and write quickly - which can lead to carelessness. (How many times have you fired off some missive – and then quickly looked for the recall key?)
- The relative inability to develop personal rapport over eMail makes relationships fragile in the face of conflict. (How often have you read something and thought ‘what does he really mean by that?’)
If this has caught your attention then there's more information in a nice article in the Christian Science Monitor.
The simple fact is that we’re simply not as good at communicating as we think we are. We never have been. Humans have developed a heavy dependency upon all the non-verbal signals that surround and accompany a message to establish what it’s really about. Some estimates suggest that about 80% of our communication is non-verbal!
So, if you still think that the best way to communicate is to fire off an eMail, and if you’re not worried that it may be forwarded to persons unknown, and if you’re sure that you’re impervious to any legal interpretation of your utterances, then go right ahead – just don’t be too sure that the message will be received loud and clear. Me? I think I’ll be picking up the phone!
Carl G Peatman
29th October 2007
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