When I was in undergrad people were starting to talk about this new cool thing called texting. You could communicate with a friend or a colleague by using your phone to type instead of calling. I even remember anxiously waiting for the next time my phone contract would renew so that I could somehow get texting as part of the plan and be “cool”.
With its convenience of delivering a message right to the person it can be a very efficient, speedy communication method in which information can be readily exchanged. It can be a very good tool to exchange information but not to have a meaning conversation. The lack of live exchange of gestures, voice tones and body signs, it can easily take away key aspects of a meaningful conversation.
For good communication, as it’s often necessary in medicine, the listener’s eye contact, posture showing they’re attentive and open to the talker, other nonverbal gestures like nodding or facial expressions all add much value to a conversation. Sometimes, when appropriate, even a pat on the shoulder to reassure them or show our sympathy. Just the tone of our voice alone can add much more meaning to what we are saying. We all have heard the saying “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”.
Don’t let me talk you into texting being a negative tool. In my practice, patients get to have my cell phone number and can text me. This can be very convenient for both sides as it can help avoid a clinic visit with after a quick exchange or two. Notice I said exchange- exchange of information. For example, “Doc, I’m pretty sure I have sinusitis. Can we do antibiotics?” Me: ”Hi there. Thanks for the diagnosis (just added for humor, would not advise including in a text). Do you mind telling me what your symptoms are and how long it’s been going?” Now, what if I received a text starting as “ doc, I’m depressed?” That’s a deep conversation in which mood and body language all matter. I’m not going to have it over text. I will call them.
Same thing goes for our personal and business lives. A text is no different than an email, except it comes straight to our cellular device in our hands, ready for us to see or be distracted by it and readily respond. While exchange of information can be effectively done via text, a meaning conversation becomes much harder to carry out. We do not know the tone in which the person is speaking. We do not see if they’re actually smiling, or busy multitasking, apathetic, or angry as they are writing the text. We do not know the effect our text is having on the other, as we can’t see their face. Yes, we have the emoji’s. But do you always put a smiley face when you’re smiling, a sad face when crying, or an irritated face when irritated? A conversation is an evolving process that takes place between two or more people. The impact a set of words has on the other can be readily seen when we converse in person. Yes, you can’t see the gestures over a phone call; however, often one can easily detect clues to how one’s reacting through subtle changes in the tone of their voice. In texting, this becomes very hard and thereby makes it not a good media to have a meaningful conversation. Going back to that saying, it’s just what you say because many valuable components of a conversation are lost.
Next time, you find yourself getting in a heated conversation over text, make a point of catching yourself. Look for a trigger to help you do that. If you get a text that you just wouldn’t believe the person on the other end of the phone would ever say to you, don’t react in text. If you’re not going to put your phone away, give them a call to see what is actually going on. Even just hearing the familiar voice on the other end will soothe your emotions. Perhaps they misinterpreted your text and it’s looking like the conversation is going the unintended spiral. Stop, and give them a call. One can easily write away on text even to a point that it’s paragraphs and essentially a one sided conversation. Then in that case, one doesn’t even know if their words are making the person on the other side sad. Or don’t know if the other person is disinterested in listening. One can start writing away like a journal. Except the second it gets sent, it’s no longer therapeutic. It can burn bridges or hurt feelings. If you’re looking at a text and starting to feel uneasy, remind yourself that texting isn’t for this. It’s meant for easy information exchange to make life easier. It is not meant to replace the element of the human conversation. Carry the meaningful conversation over a nice walk and enjoy the nature around you. The ever-evolving new phones are impressively fancier every year, but not enough to keep your head down staring at them to carry on important conversations. Enjoy what’s around you and enjoy being able to carry a meaningful conversation using all of our senses that we’ve been lucky to come to this world with.
I hope everyone has a great Friday. If you catch yourself reaching out to a friend, relative or a loved one over text this weekend for a conversation, give them a call. Or yet even see them in person. And reflect back on how dull it actually would’ve been if you had just carried out over text.
Dr. Efe Sahinoglu with Birmingham DPC