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It is not just about Work from Home, or working across continents, or working from one city to another, or even working from one location to another within the same city; the text communication has become the most frequent mode of communication. The inboxes of everyone who is anyone is flooded with emails, most of which are copies and are of no consequence. The other common mode is text messages through WhatsApp. Both emails and WhatsApp messages cost nothing apparently and are therefore used to the hilt. Short text messages are less popular individually, but more popular commercially.
The digital communication brings several new challenges, but it is here to stay. It is therefore important to examine this phenomenon, so that the communication does not suffer, like it is suffering now.
Challenge #1 – Entire Reliance on Words
In face-to-face communication, studies show that Words contribute only 7%, Tone 38% and Expressions/Body Language 55%. When it gets changed to written communication, 55% contributed by expressions is lost immediately. 38% of tone is also mostly lost, though some amount of tone may be carried through words. This means that almost the entire burden of communication is left with words. The choice of words therefore becomes extremely important.
In general, we are not good with our choice of words in Pakistan. Our average communication is unrefined which gets worse when it comes to formal communication. Our rural-urban background is one reason, where language refinement is not commonly found. Our social norms are another reason, as we are not taught about proper communication from the childhood. The teachers come from the same background and are equally poor in communication. Their influence further promotes improper communication. We are generally inclined to create humor by targeting others, ‘the jugat culture’. We see it on stage, on TV and in real life. Many people have therefore become great at throwing ‘jugat’ but cannot find decent words to say something of value. We are also in a cycle where we are disowning our own language, particularly Urdu, for English. Many young people take pride in saying that they cannot read or write Urdu properly, although they speak the language. Some of them do not even speak Urdu much. This is the new elite which speaks English everywhere, at home, at schools, at social gatherings and amongst themselves.
Due to these reasons, when we are faced with digital communication which relies entirely on words, we do not find ourselves up to challenge. We do write, but mostly it does not say exactly what we want to say. One escape mechanism is to write short emails or messages. This compounds the problem because a short, poorly worded message is even more confusing.
Communication in life cannot be separated from communication in offices/formal places. It cannot be so that a poor communicator in life will be a great communicator in written communication. This kind of phenomenon was seen in old school, seasoned stenographers who could not speak good English but were able to write nice notes. For clarity, we should understand that their problem was not English language, it was speaking a foreign language with which they did not feel comfortable.
Choice of appropriate words is not just the key to good communication, it is also the key to good relations, and is therefore worth the effort.
Challenge #2 – Rushed Time
Whether we are actually hard-pressed for time or not, we cannot say. However, our usual stance shows as if we have very little time and a lot to do. Look at the traffic to understand the mood. The bikers and even car drivers would risk their lives to get through traffic maze, which should mean they really have something urgent to do. The same guys, however, would be seen stopping or moving at snail pace few minutes later. Our rushed behavior is just a habit, otherwise, mostly we have plenty of time on our hands.
The same rushed mood is seen in written communication. In offices, people would look at emails all day and would try to reply instantly, disregarding whether it was needed or not. First of all, we need to understand that an email can never be an emergency. If there is an emergent situation, the person would call, rather than sending an email. Secondly, there is a difference between urgent and important. Urgent messages may need urgent replies but important messages rarely require instant reply.
Most of our office people take it upon themselves to reply to emails as soon as these arrive. This behavior has two problems. One, it disturbs the rest of the working which is a greater part of core job. Two, the rushed communication does not leave time to write properly and ends up in distorting the messages.
A serious review is in order to examine if the rushed behavior is truly justified or not.
To be Continued……