What are your considerations when choosing between in-person conversation, phone calls, hand written letters, texts, and emails?
During in-person conversation, nonverbal expression like eye contact and body language afford a depth of communication and empathy that is beyond the dimension of words. “Your face says it all” is a declaration that you can’t hide from the truth. Maintaining steady eye contact lets the other person know about your receptivity to what is being said. A break in eye contact communicates a fear of being connected, a distraction, or receptivity drifting away.
Gesticulation can be revealing body language. The posture of both the speaker and listener conveys the level of openness and confidence. Crossing arms across one’s chest can stultify conversation.
Proximity to the person(s) with whom one is speaking impacts the tenor of the conversation. If you are too close, it can be uncomfortable. If you are too far away, it can be distancing.
Akin to in-person converations, phone calls cannot be edited. Spoken communication takes place in real time, giving the person on the other end of the line an opportunity to provide immediate feedback. Whether in person or on the phone, tone, pitch, and volume influence expression and its reception. Phone calls retain a human touch.
Our use of voice mail for leaving messages runs the gamut. It is often used as an invitation to talk at a later time. Why do some callers opt to not leave voice mail? Is it out of concern that Big Brother is listening? Doesn’t the recipient who sees that a call has been missed without a corresponding voice mail message wonder why the person reaching out made the call in the first place? In the rotary phone dialing days before voice recorders and before cell phones, there wasn’t an option to leave a message. There was no way for the intended recipient to know they’d missed a call. Did we suffer back then in the absence of the modern messaging inventions? What happens to something you have to say if it has to wait?
Texts, emails, and hand written letters are capable of being edited by the composer, and then reviewed at a future time. If you don’t want to emote, then texting is a better option than talking in person or on a phone call.. You cannot hear intonation. It is more difficult for the recipient to ”feel” what the communicator is saying. On the upside, written communication that can be edited provides a chance to avoid empty conversation fillers, like ”um…,” “I mean…,” “like…,” and ”you know.” Emails and texts are economical.
Texting affords opportunity for use of emojis. Sometimes they are expression aides, other times they are weaker substitutes for words that would be better expressed in language instead of images, and they are susceptible to over use. On the positive side, an image of a heart can be evocative, and a “thumbs up” emoji is handy.
How and when a recipient responds to communication matters. In an in-person conversation and in phone calls, speed of response is automatic. Some written communication warrants responses and others don’t. There are two sides to the speed of response. The sender’s expectations and the recipient’s decision about whether and when to respond can match up or not. Why are promptness of response, and the disappointment of non-responses such hot buttons? This is the sender’s issue, not that of the recipient. But acknowledgments of messages received at least reassure the sender that the message wasn’t lost in the ether. An acknowledgment of a message received completes the communication cycle.
If you want to let someone know how important they are to you, then a hand written letter is a special choice. Hand written letters feel more meaningful to both the writer and the recipient. They are rare. They impart powerful, indelible impressions. They impart emotional energy. Hand written letters are gifts.
Is communication a skill or an experience? On the skill side, communication is able to be refined. However, without the context of real life experience, there isn’t a contextual hole for the communication peg. Communication skill development doesn’t occur in a void. It occurs as a product of life experience and the desire to be in relationship with others.
Then there’s the tactic of leaving the room in one’s mind when another is jabbering on about something uninteresting. In his song, “The Other Side of Town,” John Prine satirically says to his significant other, “You might think I’m here when you put me down. But actually I’m on the other side of town.” Now that’s a skill.