Are You Gorging on Cheap Communication? Texting, Facebook posts, e-mail and the like are all great tools if used in moderation, but too much can have harmful consequences. Here are 4 strategies to maintain healthy conversations. BY GEOFFREY TUMLIN
Sometimes the best way to communicate is with a face-to-face interaction--there's no substitute.
“ We’ve taken something that’s fundamentally imperfect—communication—reduced the time we spend thinking about it and increased its frequency. It’s a hot mess. ”
Many Americans love fast food, and the reasons are simple: It’s quick, it’s cheap, and it’s easy—all of which appeal to the rushed, too-much-to-do-in-one-day American lifestyle. But because it’s so convenient, many of us tend to overdo it, which isn’t good for us.
Our communication habits are much the same way. We’re downright addicted to texting instead of calling, sending a terse e-mail in place of arranging a more leisurely face-to-face meeting, pasting in an emoticon instead of expressing a real emotion, and posting a social media message without considering who it might offend.
Just as cheaper and more convenient food tempts us to eat more of it, quick and expedient communication choices encourage us to take the easy way out, often to our detriment. And just like fast food, the communication equivalent of fat, salt, and sugar takes a heavy toll down the road.
Quick and convenient communication sounds like it would be all positive, but it’s not.
Because communication is—and people are—fundamentally imperfect, more communication brings with it more communication errors. Even worse, because so much of our "new" communication is of the quick and expedient variety—precisely the type of communication that is the most error prone—conversational mistakes and confusion increase even more.
If you feel like you’re making more conversational mistakes today, you’re not crazy. We are making more mistakes. We’ve taken something that’s fundamentally imperfect—communication—reduced the time we spend thinking about it and increased its frequency. It’s a hot mess.
That’s why we owe it to ourselves to restore balance to our communication diet.
Fast communication isn’t all bad, because many of our messages can and should be handled quickly. And slow communication isn’t always the answer, because we’d run out of time to handle essential tasks if we obsessed about every message that comes our way. A balanced communication diet includes both expedient and more thoughtful communication practices. We just need to rebalance our conversational consumption to ensure that thoughtful and meaningful interactions remain the foundation of our communication pyramid.
Here, I share four essential ingredients of a balanced communication diet:
1. Don’t forget how to slow cook your most important messages. A great deal of our communication can appropriately be handled with fast communication. A quick e-mail answers a colleague’s question about the Gatorville account, a text message informs a spouse that we’re going to be late, and a Facebook post and picture lets our network know that our daughter lost her first tooth.
In the midst of all this fast communicating, we risk eroding our ability to communicate slowly and deliberately. Many of the things we want our communication to accomplish—like persuading a client, providing emotional support to a grieving friend, resolving a workplace conflict, or arguing an important point rationally—require slow and thoughtful communication practices.
There aren’t any prepackaged solutions for persuasion, conflict resolution, emotional support, bargaining, and effective arguing. They all require the ability to thoughtfully and intentionally use your words to accomplish your objectives—which takes longer than expedient communicating, but is essential for succeeding in more challenging encounters.
2. Stop talking when you’re full. It’s easy to get to a point where we know that we’ve had our fill of e-mailing or texting for the day, but we keep right on talking, piling on the errors and feeling increasingly bloated with each message.
Take a break when your smartphone is overwhelming you. You’re doing more harm than good when you’re sick of sending and receiving messages, but you continue doing it. Your breaks don’t need to be lengthy—a few minutes are often enough to clear your head—for you to get refocused and reenergized to tackle your inbox.
Push away from your smartphone or laptop when you’ve had enough. The only things you’re going to miss while you are away are the mistakes that you’d be making.
3. Don’t forgo essential nutrients. Quick and easy communication has indisputable benefits—like being quick and easy. But expedient communication doesn’t nurture the deep and rich connections that we instinctively crave. This dislocation explains why it’s possible to send dozens of e-mails and surf the internet for hours and yet still feel strangely isolated.
We can’t survive on e-mail and text messages alone, no matter how hard it seems like we’re trying to some days. Deep inside, we have an innate urge for the kind of human contact that only slow communication can provide.
E-mail alone won’t make my marriage better. Facebook is great for maintaining contact, but doesn’t fulfill me like a meaningful conversation with a good friend. And text messages won’t deepen my relationship very much with an important co-worker. We need slow communication for the crucial nourishment that it uniquely provides.
4. Pay attention to underlying health issues. The key to maintaining a balanced conversational diet is knowing when to push back from the table at the all-you-can-communicate buffet. Fast communication, in moderation, won’t kill us; but overindulgence in quick and expedient communication can fatally damage our most important relationships.
Our important relationships don’t necessarily require a lot of time and attention, but they do require some of our time and attention. Slower communication is part of what keeps our key personal and professional relationships healthy and strong. Pay attention to how your most important relationships are doing and make sure to give them the uninterrupted attention they require.
There’s no reason we can’t enjoy the benefits of our new and expedient communication technologies, and also retain our ability to communicate slowly and meaningfully. But eating fast food and sending quick and easy messages both require an overarching mindset of moderation to ward off unhealthy consequences.
Balance is vital for effective communication and healthy relationships. A balance of fast and slow communication will prevent conversational heartburn and keep your interactions fit and fulfilling.
Geoffrey Tumlin is the author of "Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life." He is the founder and CEO of Mouthpiece Consulting LLC, a communication consulting company; president of On-Demand Leadership, a leadership development company; and founder and board chair of Critical Skills Nonprofit, a public charity dedicated to providing communication and leadership skills training to chronically underserved populations. Tumlin holds a PhD and an MA in communication from the University of Texas at Austin and a BS from West Point. You can learn more about Geoffrey Tumlin at www.tumlin.com, and you can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.