Texting: No Substitute for Face-to-Face Discussion

Communications technology is one the dominant areas that defines our times. None of us would choose to go back to the days before mobile telephones; of phones, emails, music and news on-demand and instant messaging. What a world we inhabit where we can have what we want pretty much when we want it.

While there are great advantages, personally and professionally, we must be aware of the dangers that can lie within. One of them is using these technologies at the wrong times.

It’s great to see someone sitting at their workstation with headphones on. It is irrelevant what they are listening to as long as they are working, comfortable and productive. If the context changed and you now had that same person in a meeting where he or she was expected to listen, converse and contribute and still had headphones on, you might have a different view. This would be construed as inappropriate use of technology, and indeed, inappropriate behaviour.

Other examples come to mind. Texts being seen as the new conflict resolution tool would be one. Don’t get me wrong. Texts are terrific and, in their context, are a world-beating way of communicating. They are, however, a one-dimensional communications tool — great for short and sharp messaging (“Where r u?” “Look to yr right” type of thing) but inadequate for more serious communication between two people.

One change that has occurred with better communications technology has been the instantaneous responses that we feel we should have all of the time. This can lead to inappropriate and insidious behaviors. Headphones on in meetings are not acceptable and, in many such situations, mobile phones should be switched off too. This is about respecting the context, your colleagues (and friends) and yourself also. Why let yourself down?

Handling conflict via text is inappropriate at so many levels. Texts are not like emails. It is harder to communicate anything significant on text. It lacks the depth of other media and is absolutely no substitute for face-to-face discussion. It is also singularly inappropriate in a coaching session. Coaching sessions are time for safe space and the chance to really think. There is no place for an instant response technology like texting to be anywhere near coaching. And here’s the central point. It’s about the quality of thinking — yours and whomever you are in discussion or dispute with.

In her wonderful book Time to Think, Nancy Klein introduces the concept of thinking environments. Her view is that the quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first and also that the quality is dependent on how we treat others while we are thinking.

Where text fits in as a conflict resolution tool within that context beats me.