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Put Down the Damn Phone!  

I apologize starting out and warn you that this article is something of a rant. Nevertheless, I think it is an important issue.

I am finding more and more often when people in my office relate some conflict they had with their spouse or some other important person in their life, they pull out their cell phone and pull up text messages so they can show me exactly what was said. Yes. The world has changed a lot and is still changing, but this is not an improvement. Let me just start with a rule: no conversation that is important, that is, no conversation that has emotional significance, should take place over text message. Sure, it is important to tell your spouse if you missed your train and are going to be late. Perfect for text messages. But to articulate your feelings after the tiff you had this morning. NO!

The biggest reason is that text messages are a very inadequate form of conversation. You lose all of the nonverbal and tonal parts of the communication, and in emotionally charged communication, those are very important parts. I’ve heard justifications from people who say texting allows them to think through more what they are saying so communicate better. Others have said it is nice to have a record so you can remember what was said, and I’ve even heard it is helpful because you can then “know what they really meant.” The first reason may have some validity, but that is more than counteracted by the fact that it is much easier to be harsh when communicating with someone who is not present. How many times have you planned a conversation in your head that you softened when you actually faced the person? You are not so likely to soften in a text, and communicating softly is very important. And when you don’t have any nonverbal or tonal information, it becomes very easy to project your own feelings into the meaning of what is said in the message. So if you are upset or feeling defensive, you are likely to interpret a text message from an important person in the worst possible way.

It is easier to write a text than have a conversation because you don’t have to deal with the tension that exists in a room when you are having a face to face, emotionally charged, conversation. But the reality is that good communication, healthy communication, is much more about being able to manage and tolerate that tension than it is about choosing the right words. So stop being lazy! Have real, that is, face to face, conversations with the important people in your life about important issues.

OK. Rant over. Let me know your thoughts.