Guest post by Naphtali Hoff
It’s no surprise that we use email and text for so many of our communications. It’s often faster, it’s neater, and it can easily be saved for future reference without paper sifting and clutter. Digital communication allows us to send and reply at our own convenience. And you can communicate with several people at one time,
But there are also some serious dangers that, unless managed properly, will turn these advantages into a huge disadvantage.
Danger #1: Easy to misinterpret.
Without hearing a voice or seeing nonverbal cues, people often miss the intended meaning, tone, value and emphasis because so much of the way we normally share information and ideas includes nonverbal communication like inflections, hand gestures, facial tone, and body position.
A study by Professors Justin Kruger of New York University and Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago on how well sarcasm is detected in digital messages found that e-mail senders overestimate their ability to communicate feelings and recipients overrate their ability to correctly decode those feelings.
- Use digital communication primarily for exchange of information, not resolving conflict.
- Be alert to the possibility that your intentions might be misunderstood. If you get a response that is out of line with what you expected, check to see if your message was correctly understood.
Danger #2: Raises the temperature.
For many people, the distance of digital communication makes it feel safer to “yell” or to be critical. We can more easily muster up the gumption to criticize when we are typing words on our personal keyboards than when we have to look someone in the eye and share our feelings. Furthermore, the prospect of instantaneous communication creates a pressure to write quickly, which can lead to carelessness.
- Develop the habit of responding to email at intervals rather than being always available.
- Don’t dash off quick responses. Re-read your emails and texts for clarity before you hit send.
Danger #3: It can go anywhere.
The quick nature of email makes it easy to forget that our words actually matter and can really come back to bite us. Not only must we worry about how our message will be processed “in the moment,” but there is a chance that it will be forwarded or printed for others to see as well.
- Never send an email with potentially negative implications without first showing it to one or two trusted colleagues.
- Assume all your digital communications are public. Never send something you wouldn’t want your mother to read.
Danger #4: Creates distance.
Perhaps worst of all, dependence on digital communication creates a distance between colleagues, sometimes when only a wall or cubicle separates them. It might be easier to send a quick response than to get up and share a few words. Or you might not want to not disturb your busy coworkers, especially if they are in another conversation or on the phone. But it’s important to not fall into the habit of remaining distant. Personal rapport keeps relationships strong, especially in the face of conflict.
No matter how thoughtfully an email is crafted, its digital nature makes it feel distant and impersonal. You simply cannot compare the feel of an email with that of a face-to-face chat or a phone call.
- Make time for face-to-face communications on a regular basis. It will build a foundation to support your more impersonal digital communications. As our jobs involve working with and getting things done with people, we have to be able to build healthy relationships. This requires a healthy dose of ongoing, in-person interactions, to get to know each other in real terms and how we each tick.
- If you are avoiding a conversation or feeling uncomfortable, don’t try to deal with it electronically. This is exactly the right time to pick up the phone or have a face-to-face conversation.
Leadership effectiveness expert Naphtali Hoff is the author of the new book Becoming the New Boss: The New Leader’s Guide to Sustained Success. He is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting, an executive coaching and organizational consulting firm that supports executives who want to increase their leadership capacity and improve their team’s effectiveness. Naphtali is a prolific writer who contributes regularly to SmartBrief on Leadership, the Huffington Post, and other online and print publications. The ideas expressed in this post are adapted from his book. Connect with Naphtali on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.