The use of the word “hate” in the title of this article may be somewhat overstated. Perhaps a more appropriate but less melodramatic title would be “It is hard to like people that you do not know”. Independent of the title, the notion is that it is very difficult to form opinions about others without some level of interaction. Without interaction, we all fall back to using stereotypes no matter how hard we might try to avoid them. “He is just a salesman and probably can’t be trusted” or “He is an engineer and probably is a nerd” or “He is a college professor and probably has no understanding of the real world” are examples of some fallback generalizations that can easily occur. All of us have been surprised when we finally meet someone face-to-face that we had only previously dealt with through text interaction or even over the phone. As another example, think of how you respond to a telemarketer over the phone compared to a salesperson in a department store.
With the proliferation of the Internet and social media, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we know many business colleagues or “friends” based on viewing their profiles, posts, or simple text interaction. Email, without a doubt, has taken the place of real-time voice or person to person interaction often leading to significant misunderstandings. Email promotes the concept of thinking that communication has occurred when a message has been sent. It makes the faulty assumption of what you meant to say is what the recipient actually heard. As an example, consider the simple text message of “I want to see you”. It is only five, very simple, single-syllable words. Obviously, it is very straightforward and easily understood – correct? Not so fast! Consider the different underlying messages that would be delivered if it was a bail bondsman sending it to a suspect that just missed their court appearance. Or if it was a boss sending it to an employee who just made a large error that cost the company a major client. Or if it was your spouse sending a message to you that you just won the ten million dollar lottery. Although the text message is identical, you can be fairly sure that the voice delivery would be very different. Imagine if it was delivered with video; the sender could be red-in-the face with nostrils flaring or the sender could have an ear-to-ear smile.
Think of communications as the act of your message being heard and understood by the recipient. Only when this has occurred has information actual been transferred. For many years data communications protocols such as TCP/IP used this definition with a three-transmission sequence: The sender says “Here is the information,” followed by the recipient saying “I received the information,” and finally the sender responding with “I am glad you received it”. Think of how we speak to each other when face-to-face; you speak, the other person nods, you see their nod and then know they heard (and probably) understood. Compare those sequences to a “fire and forget” email message that the intended recipient may or may not get, may or may not read, and may or may not understand as you intended.
A study showed that sending text was only 8% efficient in delivering the underlying information. Adding voice, the efficiency jumped to 35%, then, with adding face-to-face interaction that allowed live viewing of body language, 57% effectiveness can be added to bring the total to 100%. All of us have had our emails misinterpreted and likely have done the same thing. With “Reply All” email “wars” due to unsynchronized responses are almost a daily ritual in many organizations. “Effective email discussions” has become an oxymoron. Without the least bit of ill intent or malice, simple misinterpretations of emails can result in a major failure of the desire to treat individuals with dignity and respect. It is hard to unscramble the egg of an errant email or a misinterpretation. These miscommunications can be minimized by relying on real-time, interactive communications instead of one-way broadcasts that do not allow any ability for immediate feedback and, if necessary, corrective communications action.
There is no question that new communications technologies such as online videos, web sites, and webinars have dramatically increased the availability of data and information. However, their one-too-many broadcast nature with the corresponding lack of being able to continuously monitor body language to check for understanding still makes these technologies ineffective in establishing personal relationships. One-to-one interactive, two-way video conferencing comes very close to personal interaction. Unfortunately, they are typically structured calls, with limited body movement and therefore body language available. Clearly, they are better than any other form except direct, in-person face-to-face interaction. Finally, in-person, face-to-face communications allows the parties to be more personal and approachable than formal and professional, which is critical in building trust. Work hard to avoid thinking that you have communicated by merely sending or responding to an email or other one-way, non-interactive form of communication. Before you hit the send button, stop for a moment and think about what the other person might hear and not what you have said.