"The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said" - Peter Drucker
In this day and age it is becoming easier to communicate instantly through various messaging platforms. We are always looking for ways to maximise our time at work and at home and instant messaging (IM) is a great tool to communicate quickly and easily. However, like all tools, there are pros and cons to consider. Whilst IM is great for personal and informal chats, it may present some challenges for more formal business communication.
The beauty of IM is that it is instant! As soon as you touch send, the message appears instantly. You and everyone else in the group are able to see the message. So essentially, IM is chatting in real-time as opposed to email, which is often delayed. IM is also a great way of connecting staff members that are off site or allowing you to connect with multiple people regardless of where they are actually located. For all intents and purposes, it is a virtual conference without having all the people attending together in a physical meeting room.
IM, like email also keeps a record of conversations however, it is more efficient in saving data due to the fact that messaging is individual and adds to the chat list instead of dragging the entire conversation string back and forth between replies.
While IM has great advantages for the workplace, some businesses are concerned that it can be somewhat of a distraction and can even lead to reduced productivity. For example, it is a great tool for a company that has to be in constant communication with their off-site staff but could be a distraction for an employee that has to meet a deadline and is constantly interrupted by IM. So, although many companies encourage the use of a mobile phone on the job, the use of IM should be packaged appropriately. So, having said that, we need to remember that it is not appropriate to make or receive calls while in meetings or in the restroom. You should also avoid unimportant calls, such as those from friends, while on the clock. IM is generally not as formal as the use of email, therefore casual language and abbreviated words are also more acceptable.
When you need to get an important message to someone quickly, IM is a great way to do it. However, IM can also be an inappropriate form of communication depending on the situation. It is near impossible to convey emotion or voice inflection through IM, which can lead to misinterpretation and many avoidable situations. So, it is excellent for use in an emergency when we need to send a quick important message, but is disadvantageous for partners when discussing relationship issues. In a chat or text message, you unfortunately do not have the benefit of the context in which a message was sent. When sending IM’s, the biggest issue here is that there is no body language or facial expressions, which we rely a lot on when interpreting a message being relayed to us.
Without the benefit of body language, you run a higher risk of misinterpreting the meaning of communication because you do not know how to interpret that exclamation point. The lack of emotion through IM can also increase the odds of communication barriers and miscommunication. When you’re face-to-face with someone while you’re talking to them, you get a feel for how they interpret your words. How do you know if someone interprets a curt message as angry instead of simply written in a hurry?
IM also has a latency factor. When we communicate face-to-face there is constant real-time interpretation but if there is a delayed response time through IM, the sender may be inclined to send further messages or if you don’t answer back as quickly as the sender expects, they begin to wonder why you’re not responding and may feel hurt or ignored.
The impact of communication is largely determined by the quality and tone of our voice and by nonverbal communication. As we increasingly communicate via chat and text messaging, it is only natural that misunderstandings would occur so knowing how to package IM’s correctly and using it appropriately can avoid many unwanted situations.
Article written for Talkwell Communications
by Donovan Hingle - May 2021
Michelle is a speech and communication specialist working with companies and individuals in South Africa and internationally.