Talk or Text: That is the Question

How many times have you dodged a phone call, waiting to hash things out over text or anticipating an email follow-up? This week on In Process, we’re revisiting one of the most universally relevant topics we’ve ever covered: the art of conversation in the digital age.

“I absolutely believe that technology is often negatively affecting the way that human beings interact with each other,” says Evelyn Ashley. “The reality is that technology is brilliant… [but] the challenge, especially in business, is the reliance on email or technology to take the place of a conversation or a face-to-face meeting where you can actually build the relationship in order to achieve your goals.”

Hosts Evelyn Ashley and John Monahon caught up with guests Elaine Rosenblum, founder of ProForm U, and Jodi Fleisig, Senior Vice President of Media Strategy & Relations for Porter Novelli, to discuss the communication hurdles we face as technology creeps into more aspects of our lives—and how to jump them. Read on for a few takeaways from the show, and stream the episode in its entirety at the bottom of the page.

Our perception of ourselves compared to our peers is skewed.

“What people do is they present a false self, and that has raised the standard for the way people think they have to present themselves,” says Elaine. “I think what that has caused, in terms of the quality of communication, is that people have felt like they need to present a false self. That lack of trust that comes from the false self is a problem.”

With today’s culture of over-sharing, people actually think they need to present themselves as something more or bigger than what they actually are.

“When people present false selves, of course people believe some of it. But I think people know in their hearts—they may not be able to articulate it, but they know on some level—that it is a false self. That makes them less likely to risk themselves,” says Elaine. “That goes to trust, and trust is where you build relationships and that’s actually where creativity and innovation come from. “

When it comes to conversation, you are in control.

“Conversation is a muscle, and you have to work it,” says Jodi.  The popularity of text messaging and chat puts us in the habit of using snippets to communicate rather than fleshed-out thought, rendering newcomers to the work force helpless when it comes to introduction emails and cover letters.

Jodi says she tells her clients who get anxiety about conversations, whether those conversations are interviews, public speaking engagements or everyday encounters, to come up with three key messages you want to your listeners to walk out with.

“Everyone needs to learn: you are in control,” says Jodi. “You have to practice. Just because you’re brilliant in science doesn’t mean you’re great in English. Just because you’re a great CEO in subject X doesn’t mean you’re a good communicator. You have to learn how to communicate, whether it’s asking for a raise or appearing on a radio show or speaking to the board or just speaking to the people on your team… You don’t have to turn into an extrovert, but you need to have the confidence to say what you mean.”

Don’t rule out technology in conflict resolution—but don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and talk, either.

“[Technology] can be very efficient and very effective.  I think where you have to be careful is word choice,” says Elaine. “Our default word choice, especially since we move so fast, tends to be extreme and judgmental. We are inundated with judgmental comments from movies, media. Our default [tone] becomes judgmental. [Based on whether you] neutralize that language, you can get into an uncomfortable conversation or an easy conversation.”

If a conversation is escalating into unpleasant territory via email, though, it’s a good idea to pick up the phone and talk things out.

Nothing can replace an in-person meeting.

 “I think that technology is a tool,” says Jodi. “The most important thing that you have to sell is yourself, and the best way to do that is to connect with people through chemistry. You can tell so much about a person when you meet them. I think you can use technology as a tool to further that relationship. One doesn’t substitute for another.”

In the technology you do use to communicate, it’s important not to be too guarded. Remember, the most effective message is going to be one that reflects the “you” that the person on the receiving end is familiar with.

“You do need to put your own personality into your technology – into the emails that you write, and what you post to Facebook and Twitter. You need to break out from the clutter,” says Jodi. 

Stream the episode in its entirety in the player below. For more from In Process, subscribe on iTunes