Friday, November 6, 2015

Communication: Electronic or In Person?

When my daughter and I dressed as each other for Halloween,
the nonverbal communication was a huge part of our costume!

So much of what I used to do as a therapist and what Terri and I do as consultants is to help people with communication: with spouses, children, parents, co-workers, troupemates, and friends.  This got me thinking about the ways we communicate and how different they are than when I was growing up. I often see people choosing to say difficult things via email or text.  With electronic communication, we don't have to deal as directly with someone else's disappointment, or worse, anger.  In an text or email, people are much more likely to say things harshly, or to have the things written be interpreted harshly, since there is no ability to observe body language or to clarify in real time.

I wondered if there is there any research that helps us know which method of communication is best for particular situations?  Well, as you can predict (or else why would this be an interesting blog, right?); there is!

Our sister, Kristin, and my boyfriend Hasan.  Hmmm

The results of the research are pretty clear.  If building trust is important, in-person communication works the best!  This is true for several reasons:

1- We touch each other.  Formal business meetings usually start with a handshake.  Visits with friends or family often start with hugs.  I went to an Albanian wedding with my boyfriend, and was greeted by everyone with 3 kisses to the cheek.  It took me a minute, but then I figured out to go right, left, and then right again!  Even brief touch, like shaking hands, can cause the centers of the brain associated with rewards to activate.  Touch increases cooperation, promotes good feelings and results in more positive interactions.

2- We are able to gauge consistency between words and body language.   If words and body language are consistent, we are more trusting.  You might not know a lot about reading people's body language, but nonetheless, you will pick up on things you aren't even conscious of, for example, a person's eyes dilating when they are happy.

3- We mirror other peoples' emotions.  This is called emotional contagion. If you just need to share factual information, an email is fine, but if you need to encourage excitement, in-person is better.

4- Finally, for all of the reasons above, we tend to like people more when we meet with them in person.

My daughter, Kristin, who like my sister, her namesake,
is a master of nonverbal communication

So what if we can't communicate in person?  Don't despair.

The next best choice is video chatting.  That works 80% as well as an in-person meeting.  After that comes audio chat, followed by texting or IM.

I know what some of you are thinking... that you are not, have never been, and never will be comfortable talking about difficult things in person.  Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will address that very issue!

Here are some articles in case you want to read more about this topic: