I feel like social media adds a layer of complexity over everything. Looking at everyone’s perfect lives on Facebook or Instagram can be lethal if you’re feeling down. It’s easy to feel that everyone else has a perfect life: pictures of holidays, sleepy happy babies, new cars, raves about new jobs and wedding pictures abound, which can feel awful if you’re in a bad space. It’s important to remember that social media reflects the highlights reel of a person’s life: your new baby may scream for 23 hours out of 24, but as soon as she falls asleep you take a picture and post it – and everyone thinks your little angel is easy and restful. If you’re feeling bad it’s very easy compare how you FEEL with how other people LOOK, and feel like you come off second. Remember that just because it looks easy through the window of social media, the reality may be completely different. The context is absent.
But I digress. I want to talk about communication today, and how I’ve seen it go all runny several times because of text messaging or emails. I remember from my coaching days the adage that “words are ten percent of communication”: only a small part of your message is contained in your actual albeit carefully chosen words. The rest is unspoken: your tone of voice, your body language, the context around your statements are all important. In person if I ask you how you are and you answer “I’m fine”, I can hear the chirpy reassurance in your voice, or I can hear those same words spoken in anger and resentment, and they carry very different messages.
When all we have to go on is text, there is vast room for misunderstanding. We project into the email or message the voice tone we imagine the other person may have intended, without any evidence other than the words themselves and our own expectation. If you’re feeling angry and hurt, or guilty, or resentful, you will read this into the blank words. And there will be no room for kindness, for questions, for changing your mind. There is no real dialogue, only a series of monologues, soliloquies in your own head and your own voice using another’s words. What is missing is the other persons point of view, the other persons frame of reference. It’s what a friend of mine calls 2D vs 3D communication. Electronic written communication is flat and inflexible; verbal, face to face communication has depth and room for understanding and a possibility for healing. There is no room for clarity, compassion or healing when the conversation is only in your head.
This is not to say that face to face conversations necessarily end better. But they are absolutely likely to be clearer. Communication is a complex subject and I’m sure I will return to it over and over.
Granted some conversations are easier through the distance created by electronics and written words, and no-one but you can decide how best to communicate your message, but bear in mind the value of a face to face conversation, especially when it’s something important and nuanced.