Can We Talk?

You may remember trailblazing comedian, Joan Rivers, weaving this phrase throughout her comedy routine.  Turns out, many of my colleagues and coaching clients are finding these words to be transformative as they seek to improve their work relationships, especially in this age of digital media and virtual office set–ups.

Countless times, I am struck by the power of personal dialogue. In this hyper-connected, digital age where text is king and time is in short supply, returning to the simplest form of communication – TALKING – can often yield the most benefit.  And while most people think email/text saves time, talking it out often saves time in the long run!

Think about a time when you may have misunderstood someone’s message via email or text.   According to research conducted by UCLA psychology professor emeritus Albert Mehrabian, 7 percent of a message was derived from the words, while 38 percent from the intonation, and 55 percent from the facial expression or body language.    Simply put, most communication is not dependent on WHAT is said, but HOW it is said. 

Oftentimes, the written message we receive may be clouded by what is going on with us at that moment.  Are you rushed, trying to get something done?  Did you just have a difficult discussion with a colleague?   The lens through which we look at an email or text can be dramatically influenced by what is going with us in the moment.

A recent famous example of where dialogue appeared to help a fraught relationship, was during the first face-to-face meeting between President Obama and President-Elect Trump, two days after this past election day.  After years of mean-spirited attacks waged through the media and Twitter, I was struck by the civility and optimism that was apparent when both men actually met in person and started having a conversation.  This led to a months-long period of dialogue between both men and their teams that resulted in a peaceful, civil transition of power between two bitter adversaries.  While it is no secret that this relationship has collapsed since the Inauguration, who knows how actual conversation would impact the civility and tone moving forward!  However, that analysis is outside the scope of this article! 

Next time you receive a text or email that is not clear or rubs you the wrong way, consider picking up the phone (or, if possible, meet face-to-face) to discuss the issue.  Look to start the dialogue with the intent of gaining greater depth and understanding.   Conversely, if there is a complex or sensitive issue that could easily be misconstrued via text/email, ask the person, “Can we talk?”   The grief and time you will save will be a start to ensuring greater clarity, understanding, and enhanced relationships.

And that’s no joke!