We live in a world of emails and text messages. And frequently our electronic correspondence can ignite conflict due to misunderstanding or misinterpretation of linguistic and non-verbal signs that have evolved in cultures over thousands of years. It’s an issue that, given our reliance on technology, is only going to get worse. My recommendation for you is to avoid potential conflict by looking back – way back – to the time of the telephone.
According to Mashable in 2012 around 144.8 billion emails were sent per day with 28% of the average workers’ week being devoted to sending and responding to email.
Meanwhile, when people head home after work, increasingly they’re using texts to communicate. According to Business Insider, US smartphone owners aged 18 to 24 send roughly 2,022 texts per month (67 per day) on average.
Countless other people are using instant messaging systems and don’t even get me started on the number of Twitter conversations that will grammatically incorrectly unfold all over the world as you read this.
While the benefits of more rapid communication among people is obvious, less apparent are the drawbacks of the avalanche of emails/texts/chats of the 21st century.
In addition to the fact rapid electronic communication often precludes thoughtful and considered responses (“I texted you 10 minutes ago! Why haven’t you answered yet?”), it can also be utterly awful when trying to comprehend and mitigate potential conflict situations. Throw in our generation’s healthy and frequent affection for irony and sarcasm (”Yeah, John, you are the laziest and most disorganized Editor the Internet has ever seen.”) and you have a recipe for disaster. Emoticons allay some of these struggles, but it’s not nearly enough to effectively address the core problem.
During less rapid times, an in-person meeting or phone call would quickly loop you into both verbal, tonal and body language clues to the person’s thoughts on conflict situation. These clues often offered routes to mitigate concerns or better understand seemingly oppositional other perspectives. They provided far greater amounts of information transmission, additional context around a situation as well as more time to sort out multiple options and solutions to a problem. A direct conversation was – and still is – an incredibly powerful tool for conflict resolution.
That’s why it makes sense to get old school (even with all the 21st century communication options available) if you’re facing conflict online. Rather than continue to up the ante with increasingly passive aggressive or misunderstood emails, why not pick up the phone and call the person? You may be surprised how quickly you’re able to resolve the issues causing tension in the first place.