I’ve sent a text to someone who has missed the mark of what I was trying to convey more times than I can count, and I know I’m not alone. The rise of digital communication has birthed an increase in misinterpretation, and chances are the missing links were nonverbal cues such as body language, tone, and eye contact. I’ve utilized digital communication when a face-to-face would have been much more appropriate, resulting in a total miscommunication altogether.
A study done at UCLA revealed that up to 93 percent of efficient communication is determined by nonverbal cues. When attempting to convey exactly how I feel via text, there isn’t any amount of abbreviations or emojis that can take the place of how genuine in-person contact can truly be. By texting, I’m robbing myself of hearing someone’s laughter or the tone of their voice, seeing the way their eyes light up when they’re excited, or observing how they cross their arms when they’re frustrated. When someone expresses their feelings to me digitally, it can be extremely difficult to effectively interpret what they really mean. It’s often hard to know when someone’s being sarcastic or serious, not to mention how the same sentence can be interpreted differently when sent electronically as opposed to hearing it aloud in their presence.
I once asked a professor to extend a deadline due to a medical emergency. She replied “OK,” partnered with a “thumbs up” emoji. Looking back, I realized I completely misinterpreted two little letters and a hand icon, as I felt her response was short and wondered if she was annoyed. Did she really not want to give me the extension but felt obligated under the circumstances? To my surprise, when I saw her in person, she put her arm on my shoulder and asked if I was feeling better. I was shocked! How could I have completely misinterpreted such a tiny response? If this could happen with a professor, can you imagine the problems it could cause in other relationships?
The lesson to be learned is that some types of communication are simply meant to be shared verbally – and in person. There is just something so organic and beautiful about the way we humans communicate within the song and dance of our exchange of words, partnered with our nonverbal cues.
If you’re going to relay simple information such as times, dates, or meeting directions, texts are a quick and easy way of sending the message. However, if it’s something that requires a true human connection, perhaps we should give our fingers a rest and look each other in the eye when we speak, or at the very least pick up the phone. Let’s not let our words and emotions get Lost in Translation!