ZAGATA: Face-To-Face Is Better. But If You Communicate Electronically…

Column by Mike Zagata for July 20, 2018

Face-To-Face Is Better.

But If You Communicate Electronically…

Mike Zagata

When thinking about the joys and pitfalls of communicating electronically, I’m reminded of these words from a John Denver song: “She sang to me in silence with her eyes”. How beautiful is that!
Those of us who began communicating before the advent of e-mail and texting with our cell phones understand what’s behind those words. The “millennials” may, through no fault of their own, lack an appreciation for what’s behind John’s words.
I really didn’t think about how easy it is to miscommunicate with e-mail and texts until a close friend sent me a guided missile via a text message. I had inadvertently done something to offend him and he was letting me know it.
Once the incoming missile hand landed, my immediate reaction was to launch one back in his direction. Texting works well when the waters are calm and you’re communication about things where you agree. It does not, however, work very well for resolving differences.
The truth is that trying to resolve differences via texting is a recipe for failure and usually makes matters worse. The same is true for e-mail. Success is much more likely if you meet in person or, at a minimum, have a phone conversation to resolve differences.
What John Denver was saying in those lovely words is that, by being able to see her, he was able to read her expressions, her body language and maybe even the inflections in her voice had she spoken.
Texting and e-mail are sterile in that regard. All we get to “see” are the words and, as we all know, they are subject to interpretation. If things have been going well recently with the author of those words, we are more apt to look at them in a positive light.
If there is tension between the author and the reader, those same words can instill anger. The party on the other end has no way of knowing which way they have been interpreted until he or she receives either a warm response or a guided missile.
While on the topic of cell phones, let’s look at how they have affected the norm for what is courteous and what is rude. If I’m sitting with someone and having a conversation, is it polite to answer my cell phone?
If you say it is, then is it more polite to answer it and tell the person I’ll call them back or engage in a conversation with the caller? What about if it’s a call you’ve been expecting? You may know that, but the person sitting next to you may not. That could lead to one of those incoming missiles
landing in your e-mail or
text box.
The means by which we communicate are rapidly changing and the social mores associated with those means are having difficulty keeping pace. A good rule of thumb might be to consider how you would react and act accordingly.
If you do inadvertently offend someone, all you can do is hope they will take the time when it happens to let you know in person. If not, it is likely to fester and then show up later as an incoming missile as a text or e-mail.
As baby-boomer struggling with these changes, I would like to apologize if I have inadvertently offended you.

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and former environmental executive with Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.


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