With everything we use our smartphones for, it can be easy to forget that the devices were once used for actually talking to other human beings. With our voices. Many of us have become accustomed to communicating with coworkers and clients almost exclusively using email and instant messages. But if you work in an office where people still talk to each other, could this habit hurt you professionally?
Psychologist Art Markman helps a reader figure out if his communication habits will have a negative impact on his career.
I have what might sound like kind of a silly problem. I really, really hate talking on the phone. I don’t know why, exactly, I’m not an overly shy person, but I’ve just gotten out of the habit (or maybe never gotten into it). I email, text, or use an instant messenger for pretty much every form of communication, both at work and in my personal life.
I haven’t gotten in trouble for this, exactly, but I have noticed that in my new office, people actually answer their phones, call vendors and clients, and check their voice mail. Am I hurting my career by using only text-based forms of communication? It’s never been an issue in past jobs.
Human communication evolved in an environment in which small numbers of people communicated face-to-face in real time. The closer we get to that situation, the more effectively we communicate with other people, and the better we generally feel about our interactions with others.
There are a lot of things missing when you do all of your communication through text rather than in person or on the phone. When people can hear your voice, they hear more interpersonal warmth than when you just write to them. In addition, tone of voice helps people to find the emotional intent in what you say. It also helps people to feel that you care about their feelings when you are asking them to do something. A request to perform a task can sound cold when it comes in an email.
This coldness can be a problem with texts and instant messages. They require you to type short notes, and so your requests can feel abrupt. People have tried to add some emotional tone back with emojis and emoticons. However, those are a little too casual for some business interactions. It is hard to maintain the right kind of business relationship when you are carrying over texting conventions that come from what you would do with your friends.
Another problem with texts and emails is that they don’t happen in real time. It is easy to misinterpret things that people write to you, either because what they wrote was not clear or because it was ambiguous. You cannot clear up these misunderstandings right away. Communication problems create bad feelings between the people talking, which can affect workplace relationships. In addition, the extra back-and-forth that is required to clear up communication problems can add time to projects and make them less efficient.
Finally, emails, texts, and instant messages create a sense of distance between you and your colleagues. When you speak to people directly (even on the phone), you have a greater sense of immediacy and connection to the person you are talking to than when everything is done by text. You become less of a specific person to your colleagues and more of an abstraction. That is another reason why some more personal contact is valuable.
Of course, there are certainly situations in which text-based communication is valuable. For one, if you want to make sure that you have completely communicated a list of tasks that need to get done, then it can be helpful to have them all written down. In addition, if you are trying to establish a record of communication, then having an electronic paper trail is a good way to ensure that you know what was communicated and when it was sent.
Now that you have recognized that you are avoiding more personal forms of communication, it is time to add those back into your interactions at work. You don’t have to speak directly to colleagues all the time, but connecting with your most important colleagues and clients regularly will create closer relationships and a greater feeling of trust in your work. Even one or two more phone calls a day with colleagues will help a lot. This will be increasingly important as you move forward in your career and are given more leadership roles.
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