Last night I saw a magnificent production of Tosca by the Australian Opera. If you had asked me in a text message what I thought of it, I would probably have responded with “great” and I might have added a thumbs up emoji. what you would not have seen was the way my hand punctuated the air as I wrote “great”, you would not have heard the awe in my tone, the gasp that preceded my word and nor would have seen the look of admiration and delight that flooded my face as I recalled the evening.
Research suggests that when we are communicating attitudes or emotions, approximately 7% is communicated by the words and 93% by the nonverbal aspects of communication – facial expression, tone of voice, gestures and the like.
In my text response to your question about the opera, you missed 93% of the message.
It seems our youngsters are giving up on telephone conversations. They much prefer to text. They have lightning thumbs, and the messages fly back and forth at an amazing speed. These text conversations can be short or sometimes very, very long. And the longer the conversation, the more likely it is that misunderstandings, misinterpretations and false impressions will be built and expanded upon.
Why? Because every time a message is sent, 93% of it is missing! Imagine trying to read a novel or a letter with 93% of the letters missing.
In an attempt to overcome this paucity of information we insert emojis and giphs. They help a little, but not much. You send me a text letting me know you passed a very hard exam, one you had worried yourself sick about. I send back a message that says “Well done” and includes a thumbs up emoji and a heart.
But if you were here with me you would have seen the expression on my face that showed I understood your relief, one that expressed the pride I felt. And you would have known the confidence I felt in you as I gave you a bear hug of appreciation. Instead? Just a couple of words and two small symbols.
It’s a frequently used exercise in drama classes to say the word “yes” in as many ways as possible, implying as many different meanings as possible. The range is amazing. But in an SMS there is only the word. You work out the meaning for yourself, and with no nonverbal cues to help you, there is every chance you will get it wrong.
Why is this so important?
Make sure you understand the weaknesses that exist in text conversations. Save the text chat for the factual, the trivial, for what it was designed – short messages and chat. These messaging services are named as they are for good reason.
If you want to talk about something that involves the exchange of attitudes and the expression of feelings, subjects that have some depth and nuance, pick up the telephone or better still, meet for coffee.
Most importantly, make sure your children and your students understand the dangers of “Chat” and the “Short Message Service”. They will avoid so many hurt feelings, misinterpretations the misunderstandings.
If the conversation is worth having, it deserves 100% of the communication process, not just 7%.