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The Trouble with Texting

A few reasons why texting is no substitute for face-to-face communication.

Lately, I've noticed more clients using text messages to discuss or argue about unresolved issues in their relationships. As someone who is all thumbs with my thumbs, I’m always amazed that people have the digital dexterity to carry on a reasonably coherent text dialogue for longer than two minutes. But personal challenges aside, texting is not the way to negotiate a relationship.

As texting becomes second nature to a generation reared on iPhones, it’s worth noting that human beings were designed to connect with each other on many different levels. UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian found that 58 percent of communication is through body language, 35 percent through vocal tone, pitch, and emphasis, and a mere 7 percent through the content of the message.

We all know that good communication is the cornerstone of relationships. So why attempt to resolve a disagreement using only 7 percent of your full expressive potential? Would you run a marathon with 7 percent of your physical strength or take an important test with 7 percent of your intelligence? Would you host a holiday gathering with only 7 percent of your house cleaned?

And that’s a generous 7 percent. Consider all the annoying slips of the finger that can interfere with clear communication. When the difference between “mad,” “sad,” “bad,” and “glad” is an errant thumb, wobbly finger gymnastics can be costly and confusing.

I understand that for some people, texting has become a habitual form of communications. And we all know that some habits are hard to break. But I also believe there are additional reasons why someone might initiate a delicate or difficult conversation via text. Here are a few theories:

  1. To avoid revealing vulnerable emotions. No one can hear trembling or anger in your voice in a text.
  2. To protect oneself from having to hear another person’s distress, whether it be crying, anger, or strain in their voice.
  3. To have some control over the conversation, including setting boundaries with difficult or verbose people. Sometimes this can devolve into manipulation, especially if one party refuses to talk on the phone.
  4. To expend less energy. Texting requires fewer sentences than talking or emails.

Despite appearances, I am not anti-texting. Like any technology, texting has its place, especially to say a quick hello, banter simply, or make plans. But as I tell my clients, it's always preferable to discuss problems face to face. And when that's not possible, our smartphones also have digital keypads... and we have fingers.

More from Kim Schneiderman L.C.S.W., M.S.W
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