Friday, October 3, 2014

Writing on texting

DSC08656 (902x1300)A virtual organization and an expat’s long-distance friendships means my face-to-face meetings and close conversations are sadly infrequent.  So a lot of my business and personal communication is, by necessity, done in writing.  I seldom send anything by postal mail unless it involves requires a real signature on a contract or a significant event, relying mostly on emails for everyday keeping-in-touch. 

For more immediate thoughts, I rely on a messaging app, generally via phone text, Facebook, Skype, or WhatsApp.  I like being able to poke a note directly into someone’s hand, where I’ll get a rapid acknowledgement that they’ve seen it and (often) an immediate answer to a simple question.

WP_20141008_030 (1300x682)But one response begets another, and exchanges quickly turn conversational.   When light and casual, it’s a nice measured way to catch up on gossip and bind a friendship. However, when talk turns to serious or difficult topics, things break down badly.  Misunderstandings occur more frequently in text conversations than in any other medium I use; people’s attitudes and feelings are distorted and my biases and worries sound more pronounced.  And, too often, I end up tediously spending precious face-time resolving the misperceptions.

text messagingA few others have also commented on the inadequacy of text messaging for sorting out strong emotions or confrontational questions.  I’ve learned to be more self-aware when approaching that furrowed brow / tensing gut feeling while messaging,  If I don’t stgep back altogether (Let’s come back to this later when I see you?), I have adopted a few guidelines to be mindful of:

  • ‘Seen’ means a message has been received by the device, not that it has been read nor considered by the recipient.  Above all, silence doesn’t signify that you’re being ignored or that s message has met with disapproval.
  • Remember that texts are time- and location- stamped; they set an unintended context that can change the meaning of words.
  • When messages are stark and blunt, they can evoke strong emotions.  Do take a moment and don't react to texts that feel provocative.
  • Humor simply doesn’t work in most text conversations, even when punctuated with emoticons.
  • Avoid having multiple streams in a conversation. The juxtaposition of comments in one thread with responses from another can lead to bad, bad misinterpretations.  Stick to one conversation, pause occasionally, and sync up regularly: make transitions obvious.
  • Check the temperature periodically and give clear signals.  80% of normal communication (tone, expression, gesture, prosody) is lost in texts, and you can get way out of bounds without realizing it.
  • Avoid head-down mad-dash typing when feeling strongly.  It’s hard to keep up with, and answers fly off the screen without being read if you don’t stop and look up regularly.
  • Let the conversation pull you rather than pushing it in the direction you want it to go.  Stop to trade control of the conversation.
  • Watch out for accidently inserting homophones when using voice-recognition (hands-free) transcription, and recognize that cross-cultural differences in vocabulary and nuance can be deadly.

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