Chapter 28

Texting Isn’t Enough

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Let’s poke a hole in Ockham’s Law, that the simplest solution is usually the correct solution.

More and more, general one-on-one communication is devolving into the texting mentality: it’s too short and concise, too interrupting. Let’s join together to fight this slide.

So what is the Ockham’s Law exception? It’s this: In work communications, yes, leave out ongoing chatter about nonbusiness matters. Please do get to the point, but don’t play the robot by taking communication
protocols to ultra brevity, to the brink of rudeness. In the midst of our too-busy days, we can sacrifice a few seconds to being friends, can’t we? Prattle on a bit about your life, even if we’ve just connected for the first time. Tell me some small thing about yourself, and then ask me about me, then let’s get on with things. For a great relationship, silence is not always golden. Keeping things simple is a good rule of thumb, but let’s be reasonable.

It’s OK. It will only take a few additional seconds.

Especially germane to work, but also relevant to personal communications, here are nine tips for sending and receiving texts, email, and voice mail that you can implement instantly.

Text only for immediate concerns and for family: Anyone under sixteen will roll their eyes at this. Why be hard-nosed about texting? Because you don’t want to be interrupting other people for routine matters, and you don’t want to encourage others to interrupt you about something that can wait. It’s a good thing to be able to focus for more than ten seconds at a time! If your issue can wait, let it wait in my email inbox, and I promise to get to it soon. Don’t get sucked into a frenetic texting protocol that in all likelihood has been adopted
by every single teen you know and is quickly inserting itself into adult communications. (Most teens don’t even have email addresses, and because they hardly ever talk to each other, neither do they set up or use their smartphone voice mail boxes.) My tactic is to respond to unsolicited nonurgent texts with email. And when senders don’t get the hint, insistent that I join their texting mania, I explain that I reserve texting for urgent and family matters only. Here’s a great book regarding focus and concentration: Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Point of Sale (POS): If you’re going to communicate, send your message now (most often email and voice mail, not text). Why? Because POS is almost always the most efficient way to do things. The person on the receiving end will appreciate it, while you’ll get the matter off your plate. Does this mean you should respond to messages right this second? Yes, if possible, but this doesn’t mean you should check your messages every two minutes. (See the next point.)

Be militant about protecting your focus time: On your smartphone, don’t constantly check for messages! It annoys the people around you while it adds a degree of mania to your own personal composure. But you know that already, don’t you? Check for messages every couple of hours or so. Who’s the boss, you or that little electronic device? And on your laptop, turn off the incoming message notification. Do you have an office door? Maybe close it more often.

The silent treatment: Failure to respond to a message is rude. The perception is that you are not paying attention, are overwhelmed, and/or simply don’t care. If in a given situation you’re not sure if you should communicate, you should communicate. (This guideline, of course, doesn’t apply to nonsolicited sales messages).

Think it through: Thoroughly read messages you receive before responding. And as you compose a message, double-check it carefully before sending. Are there grammatical errors? Does it make sense? Your message is you!

Quality and quantity: At work and in personal life, emphasize quality and quantity. If there is steady communication—generally email and voice mail, not text—quality will evolve. But note: The quantity aspect has more to do with frequency than with volume of content. Rambling dispatches that contain more information than necessary, or messages that keep repeating the same detail, are a waste of two people’s time. At work, the voice mail medium is particularly susceptible to fatiguing, inefficient messages. But then, often a voice mail message is much faster and more meaningful than an email, and sometimes a thirty-second voice mail will deliver a more effective message than a ten-minute-to-compose email.

Study your speech: A potent learning technique is to record yourself in a conversation and then review your part of that conversation. For most of us there is incongruity between how we think we sound and how we actually sound. Quirks, bad habits, and outright dysfunctions can be instantly eliminated if you become aware of them.

The above self-analysis will encourage you to deepen your voice and promote conciseness; to drop the colloquialisms “yeah,” “yup,” and “ya know.” Using slang like this will give the impression that you are unprofessional and uneducated. Other common verbal faults include not pronouncing “Gs” at the end of words, endlessly interjecting “umms,” and overusing legitimate words such as “so” and “like.” And you’ll want to eliminate some tired pop idioms such as “I’ll let you (do, explain, take care of, etc.) it,” “I mean,” “to be honest,” and “no worries.” As you listen to yourself, maybe you’ll hear other words you’ll want to use more sparingly/appropriately such as “absolutely,” “exactly,” and “amazing.” And perhaps reconsider use of the cloying “I’ll reach out” (to so and so). If you’re a waitperson in a restaurant, don’t refer to a male/female couple as “you guys.” It’s too bad that so many good words and phrases have devolved into throwaways, their original meanings neutered via colloquial overuse/misuse.

Don’t up-talk!: This is the valley-girl solecism of ending sentences with an upswing in tone. It’s amusing and annoying to hear, especially when employed in sentence after sentence. Everything sounds like a question.

Do what you say you’re going to do: For instance, if you commit to send information to someone by a specific date, do it and do it on time. If something comes up and you can’t meet the deadline, inform the other party before the deadline. But of course, this is not just for email, text, and voice mail messages, it’s for everything you do.

Those are mechanical and pointed recommendations, and I believe Sir Ockham would approve.

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