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Texting Vs. Talking

October 20, 2015

Many employers have rules against the personal use of cellphones by staff when they are “on the clock.” Of course, these rules exist to ensure employees aren’t tending to personal business when they are being paid to care for their clients. But there are other concerns as well.

Our society has become increasingly dependent on the cellphone for everything from dinner recipes to monitoring our heart rate, from mapping out our destinations to developing a Powerpoint presentation. But what we use it for most is communicating with someone else — either by texting, email, or talking on the phone. However, as Sherry Turkle argues in her new book Reclaiming Conversation, much of the “communication” that takes place on our smartphones is actually a poor substitute for genuine, face-to-face conversation.

I recently facilitated a training that included several parts on effective communication. Something interesting happened. During the morning break, I noticed that a couple of folks were standing in opposite corners of the room frantically tapping on their phones, eyes fixed on the screen. When it was time to reconvene and they were still tapping away, I asked if everything was okay. “Oh yeah…no problem. Be right there.” At that point, the two of them looked at each other and said, “Okay, let’s go back in.” They exchanged a couple of comments on their way past me: “That was funny. Thanks for telling me.”

Since the workshop included communication skills. I asked, “Were you guys texting each other during the break?” The person closest to me said, “Yes. Why?”

Before I answered her, I said, “Can I ask you another question? Why were you texting instead of just walking over and talking to each other?” 

“It’s easier. You don’t have to use as many words.”

Attentive listening is core to the PHI Coaching Approach®. We have developed various exercises to demonstrate the importance of body language to good communication and relationship building. We believe these skills are fundamental to providing high-quality care.

Bill Gates is quoted as saying, “I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in.” I read it several times, thinking about the profound effects that texting has had on the communication between these two people, wondering if the freedom they seek is a freedom from interaction. 

It has been said that only seven percent of what we communicate is the verbal message. The balance comes from nonverbal cues, body language and tone of voice. Of those, body language and tone provide the context for the words, the background of feeling and intention. The expression on someone’s face and the way they hold their body are invaluable to understanding the message clearly and deeply. Of course, none of that is possible in a text.

Rollo May, a noted psychologist, said, “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy, and mutual valuing.” While texting has its place, one of convenience and expediency, if we are going to “create community” and “mutual valuing” of each other in our long-term care communities, more is needed: perhaps a willingness to sit face-to-face and have an actual conversation where each person feels safe to share their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. Let’s not lose the upsides of personal interaction while enjoying the upsides of texting.

— by Kathy McCollett, PHI Organizational Change Consultant

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