It is a given that communication occurs more now through texting than by face to face or phone. I wish it were not so, but it is. Me too. I find that it is much easier to send a text than to call, so I often do. While texting is great for efficiency, it often lacks in effectiveness. I am finding of late that common courtesies are often missed when “talk” occurs through text. I am sure that I have made the same mistakes that I write about, without even thinking about it. In this blog post, I am discussing one of the most common mistakes made when talking by text.
When someone initiates or responds to a text with heartfelt information, an empathetic response is appropriate, and a timely response. “Timely” is right away, or within a few hours, not days, or even worse, never! Think about how it feels to text someone about a problem, or to reply to someone’s text about a problem, and there not be a response. It is hard to believe that the other person forgot to respond or didn’t see the text. If we are that busy, then texting is not the best communication method. We should be able to assume that others we text receive the text and read it. In fact, we usually get a notification that a text was read. Why would there not be a response?
We are all busy, so being busy and that being the reason for not responding is not a good reason! What about forgetting? Yes, we can forget to respond, and if this occurs and we realize it, we should apologize. Or at a busy time, we may be getting so many texts that we “lose” one. I had this very situation happen with a text I had sent, and the person did just that, which I very much appreciated. That removed any possibility that my mind could conjure up another reason.
I will give one qualification to this “rule” of always needing to respond to a text. I am at my daughter’s while writing some of this, and she just heard of the death of someone she knows. It occurs to me that a “thinking of you” text to a family member of the person who passed away might be in order, with no expectation that a response is needed to that. Sending an initial text in this situation might be appropriate since it does not require that the other person engage in conversation at this most difficult time, yet shows sympathy or empathy.
What is an empathetic response? One that shows we care, that we feel for the other person. Comments such as, “I am so sorry that you are going through this. I am here for you. Would you like to talk about it?” And, “Can we get together? If you want to talk about it, we can; or if not, we won’t.” There are many options for empathetic responses. What is not empathetic are words such as, “I know exactly how you feel!” For we don’t. All experiences are different. And we should not ask questions such as, “What can I do?” Just do something that shows caring.
Texting is best for giving and receiving information, not for communication. If the information is complicated, serious, or painful, texting may not be the best mode of communication to use. It may be best to pick up the phone and have a conversation (with the above qualification). Do not be too busy or worse, too uncaring, to do so. As already mentioned, everyone is busy. If we have so many relationships, or even priorities, that we can’t manage the ones we care about the most, we should let some of them go.
I will mention one more qualification to my “rule” related to responding to texts. If the information needs to go to more than one person, a text may be better than a phone call. Understand, however, that if you are texting about something serious with different emotions likely involved, that your information, including the words used, can be misinterpreted. Do your best to make sure that your words should not be misinterpreted, which does not mean that they won’t be, only that they shouldn’t be.
I am writing this not to vent, but to teach. I realize that I am making some assumptions about how others perceive texts that aren’t empathetic or timely. I have not given much leeway for there being “good” reasons for not responding to a text in the manner I think appropriate, i.e. timely and empathetically. And I have already said this is about “me too.” We need to do better, and we can. But not without caring enough to do so.
Sometimes some of my family members and friends have asked “Am I in trouble?” or “What did I do?” when they read one of my epistles. Although my intent is never about calling out anybody in public, I realize that sometimes it can feel that way. You know what is said about the shoe; “If it fits, …. ..!” When I have felt guilty about something experience has taught me that there is a reason for that; I usually am. If I can hear the message I need to hear and not get defensive, I can choose what to do about it. And of course, sometimes those who need to hear the message never think it could be about them!
I am not perfect and never profess to be. There are times when I have failed to respond to others empathetically and timely. So, this writing is for me. If it benefits someone else, I am grateful.