Sunday, February 2, 2014

Methods of Communication

I graduated college with a degree in Mass Communication, a path I chose because communicating with other people with other people was (and continues to be) something I struggle with.

While I'd say my education helped a lot with my ability to communicate to masses, it actually didn't help my conversation skills at all.

Despite my awkward conversation technique, I actually prefer to talk with people in person rather than any other way. When you're talking in person you're able to communicate much more than any other method, even if you're not saying anything. For instance, if I'm in a group conversation and I'm skeptical about a course of action someone suggests, even if I don't speak up my expression can probably convey my skepticism. It's a simple fact that we understand other people more effectively if we see their body language.

Unfortunately, I have a lot of trouble participating in conversations, especially in groups. My mind races in those situations, constructing responses and rejecting them constantly until the conversation flows onward and I'm left with a good response that's a minute too late, if I come up with something worthwhile to say at all.

Still, I think this is the most important form of conversation, and I'm never going to stop trying to become adept at it. Until I get the hang of it, at least I can enjoy the benefits of body language. Plus, talking in person is that only form of communication that feels like company to me. No other form (video, text, phone) can compare to the feeling of saving someone else in the room with you, though video chat certain does its best to try.

Speaking of which, I don't have enough experience with video chat to really give an opinion on it yet, so it doesn't have a position on my list of communication preferences. So far, though, it seems to be pretty unreliable, though no doubt it's rapidly improving. I'm interested to see what it's like in ten years.

My preferred method of communication with people far away is definitely email (or some other text-based method of communication). I have two main reasons for this: response time and reference.

As I said before, when I'm in an in-person conversation I tend to hold my tongue until I have something worthwhile to say, which usually results in me not saying anything at all since by the time I come up with something to say the conversation has moved on. Email eliminated that problem completely, since I can always take my time in writing a response to an email. Unfortunately, this is still a problem in particularly active chat rooms, which is why I tend to avoid those. Plus chat rooms like that often don't keep logs anyway.

It's important, especially in business relationships, to have an email chain to reference. It keeps dates in order, helps me keep track of my tasks, and just generally helps me remember what, exactly, we've been talking about/agreeing to/promising/etc.

In this way, email is often better for such discussions than in-person conversations. However, it's important to form those sorts of relationships in person first. My method is generally to initiate a business relationship in person, then hammer out the details in email.

Finally, the real beauty of email is that it's nonintrusive: when you receive an email (or a text message, or a tweet), you can usually take your time in getting to it. It's almost never so urgent as to make you drop what you're doing to reply to it. This is almost never a problem with talking to someone in person, since you almost always know you'll be engaging with people in person before you do. Or even if you do get a surprise visit, if you're in the middle of something often times the visitor will be able to see that and either help or wait for you to finish before pulling you away.

That is not the case with the dreaded ring of the telephone.

Phones are far and away my least favorite method of communication. They offer all of the misunderstandings offered by a lack of body language with the added bonus of having no recording to reference (usually). And, even if the call is recorded, referencing an audio file is cumbersome at best: just ask anyone who has had to listen to a voicemail/answering machine message ten times in a row only to guess at a name and number.

Plus, it's incredibly awkward for me to have a phone conversation when other people are around. Something about having people hear only one side of a conversation makes me uncomfortable, and it's just as awkward when I listen to someone else do it.

Add that to the interruption problem and my trouble with talking in a conversation, and perhaps you can see why I dislike phones so much.

Luckily, I'm blessed with a job in which I don't have to answer a phone every time it rings. My past three jobs all featured the phone as a frequent interruption to productivity, which did nothing to endear me to the device. However, it's thanks to those jobs that I can hold my own on the phone and sound helpful and courteous, so at least there's that.

Understand, though, that if I'm on the phone with you, I almost always really, really want to solve whatever problem has brought us to this position quickly so I can off the phone as soon as possible. The only exceptions are when I'm talking to family, since I know most of them aren't comfortable with email.

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