Non-Verbal Cues in TEXT-Based Communication Yes, You Do!

Cora Lonning, SHRM-SCP, Touch Stone Communities

Cora Lonning, SHRM-SCP, Touch Stone Communities

My name is Cora Lonning. I am an adjunct professor in the communications department and will be instructing this class.

Hi! (Virtual handshake) I’m Cora!  I’m coming to you live from San Antonio, TX. to facilitate this fabulous class. Glad to meet y’all!  

Welcome to CCM897. Please post your introduction and any initial questions you have about the course on this welcome discussion board. Thank you.

Three different greetings; immeasurably different nonverbal messages sent to the receiver. How we communicate in text-based communication DOES include non-verbal communication, and contains specific cues in the coding and decoding communication process. Yes, there are many cues and indicators left out of the digital/text only transaction that we would normally be able to read in a face-to-face- or voice-only communication transaction. However, there are many aspects of non-verbal communication still very prevalent in the communication transaction. The more awareness we develop regarding the messages we are sending, the more intentional we can be with them. Resulting ultimately in more effective communication!

"Effective communication has traditionally been about providing as much clarity and understanding as possible. That has not changed in the digital era"

There are five (5) core functions (goals) of non-verbal communication in interpersonal communication. All five are- or could be- utilized in digital/text-only communication. They are 1. Communicating Intimacy (status of relationship); 2. Establishing Dominance (who is/is not dominant in transaction); 3. Managing the Transaction (cues, turn-taking, take leave behaviors, ice-breaking and greeting behaviors); 4. Establishing Identity (who am I- in relation to others- feedback); 5. Deception-Determination of Deception (Protection of self, others, or both).

How does that play out in digital/text-only communication?

When I approach someone in person, we can establish, typically right away, the status of our relationship. If we typically hug, we hug. If a handshake is appropriate, we shake hands. There is also that fun interpersonal faux pau of going for the hug when the other goes for the shake!

We do the very same thing in digital and text communication! How do we begin our communication? Formally or informally? My boss typically initiates contact with me via email informally, then one day an email comes across that starts out: “Dear Cora.” I know instantly that something is amiss!

All of my communication with my peer has been 8-5, m-f, then all of a sudden, I receive a text from him Saturday night at 7pm. You can bet this will throw me off - consciously or unconsciously- as to what changed in our relationship. These are the subtleties of non-verbal communication that exist, even in digital/text communication! The reality could be as simple as “he” is working Saturday night, with a crucial deadline, and does not stop to think about the impact of his out-of-character messaging. Had he an awareness, he would be able to preface it with, “Hi, really sorry to bother you on a weekend, I wouldn’t if it were not important; however, I am working on … and what I need is… "

It is heard over and over that “email messages are often misinterpreted.” True. However, so are spoken ones!

Developing an awareness of the intention of our message, how they might be received, what the non-verbal aspect might be in our message; and how we can impose a text substitute for a visual communication may be appropriate. This is exactly what emoticons were created for! How we inject a visual expression via text. Say what may not be being said. Clarify what may BE being said!

If a boss does need to send a formal email out to an employee in which there is normally very informal communication, it may be appropriate to send a friendly one before or after explaining it. For example, “Howdy Cora Bora!! Happy Friday! Hey, be on the lookout for an email that outlines all the next steps for project X. It is rather formal and lengthy; however, please note that the entire kingdom is CCd on it, so it is important for me to present myself as the amazing professional that I am. Let me know if you have any questions on the next steps. Thanks, Your amazing boss.”

Communication theory 101 teaches us that communication transactions consist of content, context (circumstances), and relationship. When we are communicating face-to-face we are well aware of the context of the situation (boss presenting to formal setting); therefore, we would understand the need for formality. By identifying and clarifying the context with text for the receiver we increase understanding!

In fact, this is a very important element of texting! When I send a message, neither party to the message may understand what the “context” of the message is being sent or received in. When I receive a very clipped message back from someone regarding an important question I asked, I may not have awareness of the context from which they are responding. I amy be in a work and task-focused context. However, the responder may be right in the middle of being pulled over and on the side of the road and highly frustrated. Context-via text-only communication- can be a mystery. I may be focused on the message, while the other person may be conducting 6 other conversations!

Effective communication has traditionally been about providing as much clarity and understanding as possible. That has not changed in the digital era. Awareness of what may be missing and what would be helpful for the receive to know is the simplest way to increase effective of communication.

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