When Writing Isn't The Answer

June 27, 2019

As much as I love the written word, there are times when talking is simply a far superior form of communication. It could be an in-person, face-to-face conversation or a quick chat over the phone. Either way, you're talking things through in real-time with another human being rather than sending scripted messages out into the ether and waiting for a response.

I was recently reminded of the importance of real conversation while struggling to come to a resolution with my neighbor over a fence.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been in a one-sided email argument with our next door neighbor over the replacement of a rotting fence between our two properties. I say one-sided because, from my perspective, I have desperately tried to be kind and agreeable only to be met with an onslaught of long-winded, defensive, and surprisingly hostile responses.    

With the last email, I nearly cracked. Fed up and baffled by the passive-aggressive bullying, I began to compose my own hostile email, defending myself and venting my frustration over what I perceived to be my neighbor's overall lack of empathy. Thank goodness I stopped myself before hitting send. Instead, I took a deep breath and walked away from the computer.

Later that afternoon I tried to sit down again and craft a more civil email. As I struggled to convey my own needs without coming across as rude or unreasonable, I realized the absurdity of the entire situation. Why weren’t we talking face-to-face over the fence like Wilson and Tim in Home Improvement? It seemed we had both forgotten how to effectively communicate.

I gathered my courage, picked up my phone and dialed her number. To my surprise, she answered and by the end of 10 minutes, we’d smoothed things over. She apologized several times for being grumpy, thanked me for staying kind throughout our lengthy email exchange, and told me to call her or knock on her door anytime I needed anything.

This one interaction reminded me how easy it is for us to send the wrong message through email, text, or social media. Things get misread, misinterpreted and blown way out of proportion. Full on fights break out on platforms like Twitter and Facebook between close strangers, friends, and relatives. Sometimes these fights create rifts in relationships that take days, weeks, even years to resolve.

The written word is a powerful tool that can bring joy and inspire, but it can also ignite fear, anger, and misunderstanding if we’re not careful or if we overuse it as our primary mode of communication and connection.  

As humans, it is most natural for us to communicate with each other face-to-face, or at least with the ability to hear the subtle emotions and intentions only revealed through listening to someone speak. These emotions cannot be replaced by clever emojis and GIFs, no matter how much time you spend searching for the perfect visual representation of your feelings.

As we dive deeper into the digital age, further embracing predictive text, AI, and other forms of technology that can speak for us, we need to remember that nothing can, or ever should, replace direct, old-school conversation.

Writing, of course, has its place, but we should think twice before we turn to it for every interaction. Sometimes verbal communication is a much healthier and more powerful way to be heard and fully understood.

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