While email, texting, and instant messaging have improved our ability to communicate quickly, our overreliance on them may be undermining our ability to communicate successfully.
Countless research studies have shown that we communicate most effectively in real-life, real-time conversations. Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, has conducted numerous experiments dealing with the communication of feelings and attitudes. His research found that 7% of the message received came from the words that were spoke. 38% came from the way the words were said. And 55% was in the facial expressions and body language of the person delivering the message.
Mehrabian refers to these as the 3 Vs of Communication: Verbal, Vocal, and Visual. For effective communication about feelings and attitudes, the verbal, vocal, and visual must all complement one another. For example, if you tell someone that you’re 100% supportive of a decision they’ve made, but you do so in a monotone voice with no eye contact and your shoulders and head slumped downward, chances are they’re not going to believe you. Why? Because the vocal and the visual didn’t support the verbal—and remember, the vocal and visual communicate the vast majority of the message!
So if the vocal and visual carry the most influence in the communication of feelings and attitudes, what about text-based communication like email? It turns out that digital communication has its own standards of trustworthiness. In the absence of voice inflection, body language, and emotional expression, people default to seeing the speed of response as a key marker of trustworthiness.
When it’s not practical to speak with someone face to face or over the phone, here are a few things you should consider before typing your next email or text message:
- Respond Quickly. To gain the respect and trust of others, quickly reply to their messages. In digital communication, research suggests that the speed of response is the key indicator of trustworthiness.
- Be Clear and Direct. By default, we don’t process text-based communication at face value. We’ve all heard the expression, “Don’t read too much into that.” Well, that’s exactly what we do, because we’re wired that way! We look for hidden meanings behind the words in an email or text to uncover the motives of others. Be as clear and direct as possible in your choice of words to leave little room for interpretation in your message.
- Always Reply. Regardless of how meaningless a message may appear to you, always respond. A simple acknowledgement of receipt will go a long way toward building respect and trust. By failing to acknowledge receipt of a message, you’re openly violating one of the most deeply ingrained social norms of our culture, responding in kind. Always reply, no matter how insignificant an email or message may appear to be.
So for all of your digital, text-based communications, remember to respond quickly, be clear and direct, and always reply. And when presented with the option of speaking with someone directly, put your cell phone away, turn off the iPad, and go talk to someone!