Why Texting Can Severely Compromise Private and Business Relationships


Today, we have myriad ways to send a quick text message. WhatsApp, Slack, Signal, Telegram, iMessage, and email have become our primary communication tools. Given how easy and accessible these tools are, it is no wonder they are used abundantly. Communicating with speed, efficiency, and effectiveness has become a key success factor in today’s digital world.

But this simplicity comes at a cost, as texting bears an unexpected risk. In fact, it could hinder truly productive communication and unintentionally endanger business and private relationships.

Misunderstandings are very likely to arise when important matters are discussed via text. Why? Because two major aspects of human interaction are missing, the lack of nonverbal cues and psychological context. 

The weight of nonverbal communication

You may have heard before that the majority of our communication occurs nonverbally. But did you know that the percentage is as high as 65% ¹?
In other words, we mainly convey a message by the tone of our voice and the way we speak, where we stand, how we move. Only when your nonverbal signals match up with the words you’re saying, you are able to increase trust, clarity, and build rapport.

As a result, a massive chunk of the actual messages may be missing if we rely solely on texting. A 2018 study² on nearly 300 participants confirmed that. There were many reasons for miscommunication, but they mostly revolved around the lack of nonverbal cues and issues that would be quickly resolved in face-to-face conversations.

Since we need nonverbal clues, we invented smiley faces. Emoji characters may be understood as a manifestation of people’s need for the nonverbal aspect of communication. Yet, emojis are not good enough.

  • Sometimes, it is inappropriate to use them. You might want to steer away from sending a smiley face in academic or strictly professional correspondence, for example.
  • A recent study ³ determined that the use of emojis is equally prone to misunderstandings, whether you send just them or add text.

Relationships always happen in contexts

Apart from the sheer form of communicating, one other aspect of human interaction is difficult to convey in the text — context. We live and relate in psychological contexts.

The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences explains that our needs, desires, values, and personalities form psychological context. It is the context from which we communicate with others.

For example, imagine meeting a former professor or a boss. You surely communicated in a certain way when they held your future in their hands. Chances are, you now speak to them differently when they do not affect your needs and aspirations whatsoever. Your psychological contexts then and now are distinctively different.

In other words, we are not robots. Rather, we are sometimes irrational and always highly complex beings. Our emotions, conscious and unconscious wishes, moods all get tangled into our communication

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

People deal with stress and anxiety differently.  Now imagine someone who is currently under massive personal stress or even trapped in a “negative thought spiral”. The more you get caught in negative thoughts, the more those thoughts can prompt negative feelings, and in turn, can actually affect your behavior in very negative ways.

When you find yourself in such an extremely stressful and painful situation your brain is most likely geared towards detecting threats or aggravation, as scientific research ⁴ revealed. As a result, your mind will be biased towards interpreting any information as potentially provoking. The attempt at communicating will, therefore, backfire. And you probably will never know why because you were unaware of the psychological context.

On the other hand, in-person communication ensures that we adjust our approach based on the psychological contexts of the people we talk to. You can perceive nonverbal clues and understand where they are at psychologically.

So, you would not pitch your idea to someone who is clearly agitated. You would notice that the timing is wrong. The text does not give you this benefit.

The flexibility of face-to-face meetings allows you to interact with the context, too.

The best of both worlds

Yes, in-person communication seems to be superior. However, we are not saying you should abandon textual information exchange altogether. Text is a great communication channel for organizational issues, confirmations, or simple transactional issues. We are merely suggesting that you should consider how to leverage on the best of both worlds.

If you want to terminate a relationship and cut off any unwanted communication attempts, textual communication may be ideal.

However, in any other situation, relying on text could lead to serious upheavals that can ultimately jeopardize a business or romantic relationship in the long run.

As soon as there is a context in your relationship, professional or personal, it would be best if you did not base your communication on text. There is too much room for misunderstandings in such interaction. As we explained before, our brains are not faultless machines. We do not take in information as a computer does. We interpret what we read and put it in a context. Humans are prone to cognitive biases, which affect our decision-making. Therefore, a simple smile or a posture could make a world of difference in your interaction with someone.

Whenever you are dealing with a complex issue, you will want to have a personal conversation by zoom, face-to-face or on the phone.

If you are keen on safeguarding a relationship, you should definitely not bank on text as your primary mode of communicating.

In every crisis lies an opportunity

De-escalation of conflicts is another area of interaction where you do not want to count on text to resolve things. Textual information exchange does not help create the context of cooperation and understanding you need in such cases. No exit scenario to de-escalate the disagreement is formed if you do not meet the other side in person, potentially with a mediator.

The next time you want to bring a private or business relationship back to a friendly, cooperative, loving and respectful basis, please refrain from WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, iMessages and email. Instead, pick up the phone or ask amicably for a personal meeting.

You will be surprised by the effortlessness of calming a conflict down. When both parties have the interest to do so, de-escalation goes smoothly. And a way to evoke such interest is to commit to a face-to-face conversation.

Finally, do not forget that in every crisis lies an opportunity. Every conflict or escalation is a chance for you to build trust. When you manage such incidents with professionalism and dedication (which is reflected by talking to people in person), your clients, employees, and partners see that you are to be trusted. In other words, loyalty and retention rates rise with your adequate approach to communication in a crisis.

Harness the power of a personal touch — even in textual communication

And so, what is the perfect solution for your communication, you may ask? After all that has been said, what would be the ideal choice? We cannot always communicate in person, can we?

There is one exquisite move you can take. It leverages on what is otherwise a menace — human irrationality and cognitive biases we are so susceptible to. What is it? A handwritten letter. Handwritten notes are extremely effective. Everyone receiving one will appreciate the time, cost, effort, and creativity invested into sending it.

Remember, the more personal and articulate your handwritten message is, the higher the chances that your message will be positively remembered.

Humans are naturally calibrated to remember things that bring us joy and make us feel positive. So, leverage that and help your relationships flourish.