Pick up the phone

Really Smart People Who Spent a Lifetime in School™ generally agree that between 60 – 90% of communication is nonverbal (facial expressions, gestures, posture, tone, throwing things). Despite this, many of us default to sending email, Slack messages, and texts about deeply consequential and complicated topics.

When I have time to craft and edit messages that are empathetic and written with the recipient’s perspective in mind (the basis of all effective communication), I’m generally pleased with the results. But most times—and I suspect this is true for most of you—I’m distractedly powering through a long list of tasks and not crafting the kinds of thoughtful messages I’d be happy to receive.

As a general matter, I suggest a phone call when discussing anything of consequence. Communication with other primates is really hard, and in my work as a facilitator I often referee conversations between humans sitting at the same table who are either talking past each other, or agreeing without realizing it. Emotive text messages just won’t do, beloved.

I regularly witness relationships disintegrate over text message miscommunications and email tone misunderstandings. To increase the chances that we won’t die alone and confused, pick up the phone. Send a text or email if you must, but include a request to discuss on a call or in person.

I had a call yesterday with a friend who thought I hated his guts based on my email to him last week. Not only did we clarify the misunderstanding, we fostered trust and empathy by exercising active listening and seeking to both understand and be understood, bringing us closer together.

Willie Jackson is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Consultant & Facilitator with ReadySet, a boutique consulting firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a frequent writer and speaker on the topics of workplace equity, global diversity, and inclusive leadership. Connect on LinkedIn or get in touch.