Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Remote Emote

I freely admit that I'm a recovering social phobic. I used to have a lot of trouble talking to people I didn't know, and over time, I recognized my problem, and I've worked very hard to correct it. And yet, if I can avoid the face-to-face and do something by email, I will.

For me, email is a virtual paper trail, everything is in writing, and it can be tracked. A phone call or meeting is a little more sketchy; you need to pick up on all the social cues (tone of voice, facial expression) and react appropriately. I think everyone might have some form of social interaction phobia; otherwise there wouldn't be so many columns and book devoted to de-mystifying the dance of the job interview.

And yet, as Dan Goleman writes,

In contrast to a phone call or talking in person, e-mail can be emotionally impoverished when it comes to nonverbal messages that add nuance and valence to our words. The typed words are denuded of the rich emotional context we convey in person or over the phone.
So emails, according to Goleman, can be easily misconstrued. He cites the example of a back and forth exchange between himself and a publishing denizen, in which she says they need to stop emailing, because she continues to sound "strident" and he comes across as "exasperated." The whole issue is resolved by a chummy phone call.

I really can't relate to the piece at all, because really, I do my best work by email. It's a perfect tool, in my opinion. And rarely have I found myself dissecting emails to discover a hidden meaning. I'm not paranoid. I'd be interested to hear from others on whether you find email to be impersonal or not.

2 responses:

Sarah Barah said...

I think email and other written forms of communication can be very effective and also rely on them heavily in my work. I think that the most common challenge is for me to read the words and try to not assume that there's a particular tone or attitude behind them. It can get tricky when providing constructive criticism, for example.

t h rive said...

good post, and good question too.

I do both. If I don't know the person I like to talk to them soon after an initial email. Better yet meet them, but you'll often never meet a client.

True, I use email as a paper trail, but telephone is better than email for getting right to details. Furthermore, don't bother looking for deeper meaning in emails - it's often not there, which is why I'll sometimes write a long detailed email then realize I should probably call about the issue. Especially if it's a problem, the email should get tossed out in case THEY are looking for an underlying message.


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