Back to top

Table the Text

August 01, 2013

In this text exchange, the responder might be playful … or angry … or indifferent — we can’t know for sure. That’s because all we see are the words; we don’t hear emotion.

In any conversation, three elements are at play: the spoken words, the tone of voice, and the body language (Is there a smile or a frown? Is the body relaxed or stiff?) Researchers of human communication often argue that the non-verbal elements — tone of voice and body language — convey the lion’s share of what’s important — more than the spoken words. “Non-verbal expression of emotion is a big factor contributing to maintaining successful relationships.”1

Texting is largely about words. There’s no body language — we can’t see one another — and the tone (as in the text exchange above) is often unclear, ambiguous. Even when we include those little smiley or frowning faces (called emoticons), there’s room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding. Especially when we’re arguing or feeling tension with a partner, tone of voice and facial expression can be critical in getting from friction to harmony.

Many of us — perhaps men more than women — prefer texting because “it gets right to the point, without emotion.” That’s precisely the problem. During difficult moments, transmitting and receiving accurate emotion counts most. So resist the impulse to tap away in the hope that texting will bring a quick fix. Instead, table all dicey topics and misunderstandings until you’re face-to-face, or at least holding the phone to your ear.

References & Citations
  1. Carton, John S. et al. "Nonverbal decoding skills and relational well-being in adults." Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 23(1) Spring 1999.