Texting and messaging is an interesting topic to me for one simple reason: It’s a completely unnatural way for humans to communicate.
Think about it. For as long as we’ve had language, we’ve mainly communicated in one of two ways: Dialogue or monologue.
Dialogues, whether between two people or more, tend to follow a simple pattern:
I say something, the other person(s) say something, then it’s my turn again. We tend to exchange information about one idea at the time until the topic is changed. And then we exchange info on that topic.
Monologues tend to follow an even simpler pattern:
I speak at my audience, and they listen.
Then.. there’s texting.
In its purest and simplest form, texting should follow the pattern of the dialogue. BUT, it’s very easy to break out of that pattern. And when we do that the quality of our communication suffers.
You see, since there’s an inherent delay in texting, something interesting tends to happen:
Person A might send a message, and in the time it takes person B to read it, think of an answer, write that answer and send it – person A has had lots of time to have lots of new thoughts.
Sometimes that leads person A to send another text with supplementary information. Which forces B to pause, read, and process that, and potentially have to start writing a completely new reply. This, in turn, gives person A even more time to think and type even more info.
When people do this we end up with conversations where one or both parties use multiple short messages to give information. This often leads to us talking about several different topics at the same time – and/or interrupting the other person’s answer as they type.
Since this is an unnatural way for humans to communicate (you wouldn’t do that when talking to someone face to face), we tend to do one of three things:
- Ignore most of the information we get and focus only on the first or last piece.
- Prioritize whatever information feels most important, or that we have an emotional reaction to, and ignore everything else.
- Read and re-read all the individual messages and compile a big answer – which prompts further waiting and thinking on the other person’s end, and which can quickly escalate into conversations so convoluted and filled with information on various topics that all hope of rationality disappears.
Ok, so I’m exaggerating a little bit on that third one. But you see what I’m saying, right?
Written text is not new to humans, and generally speaking, it fits our natural forms of communication well. But the ability to send bite-sized information in real-time is both new, and something we don’t seem to be well built for. In the worst case, this leads to poor communication, misunderstandings, and frustrations.
When it’s important for us to communicate well with those around us, whether it’s in a professional setting, when we’re exchanging ideas with friends – or even if we’re making big plans, a loss of information is a huge downside. And a loss of information is what we get when communication gets too disjointed, convoluted, complicated or overwhelming.
The good news is that there’s a very easy way to manage this:
Treat texts like you would treat an email or a conversation. Write down what you want to say, give it a quick read-through to make sure you got it right, and send it. Then – wait. Let the receiver read it, process it and reply to it.
You wouldn’t keep interrupting your friend or coworker while they started to answer you if you were talking to them face to face. You wouldn’t keep sending emails to add information if you could put all the information in the first one. And you wouldn’t talk about more than one topic at the same time. So don’t do these things via text.
And as an extra bonus, you won’t drive your friends crazy by making their phone beep and vibrate 20 times – when once would have been enough 😉