Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘text’

Dial Tone

There are a couple of broad-brush themes I find myself drawn to, things I find myself visiting with some regularity. Communication is one of them, and this week the specific thing that came up several times was how you might choose to communicate with a particular person or group of people. There’s always a trigger for these ruminations, this time the jarring interruption of an examination in my office by a ring tone that my patient surely thought was quite clever and altogether appropriate for any and all occasions. Yeah. No. Especially not while sitting in the exam chair in front of a doc who pointedly does NOT carry his cell phone while on the job.

We all got to talking about what cell phones have become and how we use them. A bit later in the day a patient was lamenting the presumed need to carry a smartphone with all of the attendant capabilities and inferred responsibilities and demands. You know the drill: each text is mission critical and cannot be ignored. An answer must be on its way before the backlight on your phone dims. You no longer have the answer to any question literally at the tip of you fingers, you now have the obligation to GET that answer, right now, lest you end up with questions in a queue. Questions have rights, too, in the age of the smartphone.

It’s insidious and seemingly irresistible, even for a guy who hangs his cell phone on a peg in the office (like a gunslinger entering an old West saloon). The “gotta answer” text now more compelling than a phone call ever was before because you can answer that text so quickly, almost…ALMOST…without interrupting whatever you may be doing otherwise. Unlike a phone call, where you must break away both attention and voice in order to communicate with someone who is not right there with you. Texters are now to the point where you need to text and ask if it’s OK to call. I must admit that even though I am nothing short of terrible at the physical act of texting (my auto-correct is in therapy with self-esteem issues) I, too, have been seduced by the ease with which a thought/need can be sent off RIGHT NOW, saving me the angst that would occur if I somehow forgot to transmit that thought/need if I had to remember it for a later transmission. I found myself becoming annoyed that my Mom doesn’t text (or email, but that’s a whole ‘nuther thing) because if she did I would never, ever forget those mission critical things I was supposed to remember and report.

But then, of course, it hits me: some people are always worth the effort of a phone call, even if they DO text (or email). In the natural evolution of communication a phone call–a real, live, use your voice and your ears phone call–has become as significant a gesture as hand writing a letter once was. Some things you just have to say out loud, and some people you just have to call up and talk to. You don’t text your grandmother to tell her about your first big boy/girl job after college. Your grandmother is worth a call even if you’re just telling her you remembered to pick up orange juice. Your Mom and Dad, POSSLQ, doctor, the guy who’s fixing your toilet–if these people want or need a call, a call is what they should get. Some communication is nothing more or less than a transactional transfer of information, while other communication is much more personal. Truly effective communication occurs when both sides are in agreement about what type of communication is occurring. Every communication with my Mom, for example, is personal, and would be even if she had and used a Galaxy whatever. As a matter of fact, even a phone call with my Mom is a kind of compromise as far as she is concerned because I am not able to just drop by to catch her up on whatever it was that she tasked me with reporting. Indeed, face to face communicating trumps even the handwritten note for immediacy, engagement, commitment, and conspicuous effort.

I was able to communicate with my patient just how I felt about that phone going off in my exam room with one eyebrow tied behind my back.

Textpectation

I am the world’s second worst texter. I’m not sure who is the worst texter, but I’m pretty sure that there can’t be more than one person who is worse than I am. I’m not too concerned about that, though, nor am I all that interested in making much improvement. I just can’t stand the pressure.

Haven’t you noticed? Unlike a phone call where it’s totally OK to let it go to voicemail, there’s an expectation that a text is going to elicit an immediate response. Actually not so much of an expectation as a demand. Call it “textpectation”.

How do I handle the pressure of “textpectation”? Easy. I simply continue to aggressively suck at texting. I have effectively lowered expectations so far that any response at any time is considered something just short of a “visitation”.

YMMV, but if you’ve sent me a text, don’t take it personally.

Thoughts On Modern Communication

At this moment the White family is experiencing the exquisite torture of communication within the context of a very sick loved one who is in the ICU. Multiple consultants, all new to the family. Very bright people who are nonetheless rather unsophisticated with regard to medicine and medical discussions. That’s a really good topic in itself, and I’m pretty sure I will find the need to offload all kinds of baggage here as that saga progresses. For today, though, what I’m interested in is the communication that is taking place WITHIN our family, one that is highly charged emotionally, and one that is taking place across three generations.

Where does the responsibility lie when we enter into a conversation? Let’s define a conversation as the interaction between two people during which there is a purposeful transfer of some kind of information. Let’s refine that by saying that in this day and age we cannot define a conversation as simply as two people talking with one another. We have email, texts, FB chats and PM’s, Twitter @’s and PM’s, phone calls and Skype, and of course plain old face-2-face talking.

So where does the responsibility lie to ensure effective transfer of information? Upon whom does it rest to make sure that facts or ideas have been successfully transmitted and received? How about the emotional content, the feelings that ride along with the data? Sometimes the emotional content is really the data that’s intended for transfer and is quite obvious, like the color guard accompanying a General. Oft times, though, the feelings attached to the words are as carefully and craftily hidden as a stowaway on a cruise ship.

Here’s my bid: the responsibility lies on BOTH sides of the conversation. Active listening is key. Engaging in the conversation means engaging the individual on the other side. It starts at the very choice of vehicle: to whom am I sending this message? On the receiving end the vehicle should also be evaluated: who sent this to me? Think about it…the universe of topics you would engage with your 75 yo grandparents via text is awfully darned small, and if you are a grandparent who texts you can’t “receive” disrespect in a message filled with contractions and lingo.

A Facebook status update is like a billboard, meant to be one-way, neither demanding nor expecting a reply. A conversation, on the other hand, is by definition bi-lateral. It requires active listening and anticipatory listening on the part of both people. It requires a shared understanding of the power as well as the limitation of each method one might choose to utilize. The smaller vehicle (text, Tweet) creates the greater distance and so must transfer the more basic information. More nuance or emotional content requires a different vehicle, at once larger (to include the details) and smaller and more intimate (so that everything can be seen as well as heard).

In the end we are social creatures, driven always to connect. The rules of communication have not really changed despite our ever-increasing ability to communicate, to connect. The more important the interaction the closer we must be to the other. Communication, no matter what vehicle we choose, requires that we listen better. Listen to what is said to us; listen to what we say; listen to what the other hears.

The responsibility for a successful communication is shared equally by both involved. Despite our newfangled world filled with different ways to communicate the most effective strategy hasn’t changed in a few thousand years:

Listen better.