Does Texting Affect Emotional Intelligence?

The single biggest problem in communication is the
illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw

B @ mtg b&e Wed. C U @ 9. **//

No, this is not a new programming language or a secret code in some clandestine society; it is a sample of communication sent through texting.

When the message is translated, it says, “Be at meeting bright and early Wednesday. See you at 9:00 a.m.”

The message ends with “**//,” which means, “Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.”

There’s nothing wrong with texting if your objective is to communicate quickly and informally. In fact, it has become the preferred method of communication for kids and young adults. Nearly one in three kids send more than 100 instant messages per day. Some teenagers can text with one hand in a pocket or two hands behind their back. Then, there are some teenagers who would rather send a text instead of talk, even if they are sitting side by side.

With the rise in the number of people texting, researchers are finding that over-texting is contributing to a significant decline in the quality of communication in the workplace. Emailing, thought by many to be the “first cousin” to texting, is equally impersonal. Although email is often longer in length by comparison, both methods have led to decreased civility, compromised interpersonal relationships, and even aggression. It is ironic that email has the potential to be more thoughtful, yet it often provokes the opposite tendency to be immediately reactive.

Up to 93% of communication is conveyed in tone of voice and body language, while only 7% is conveyed in words. With these statistics, it is no wonder that digital communication can be misinterpreted or be offensive inadvertently.

Why do people prefer digital communication? Researchers say that it’s not just for efficiency. It is a way to communicate with protection. Texts and emails allow you to hide your tone of voice, facial expressions, and feelings. You can also avoid dealing with the feelings of others. In comparison to traditional methods of communication, digital messaging is superficial and keeps a distance between you and others.

It is well known that humans are social animals, so perhaps it is not surprising that the use of emotional icons (emoticons) has increased in tandem with the increase in digital messaging. These begin as punctuation marks to portray a person’s feelings and can include numbers and letters. Maybe it’s just our human reaction to satisfy a need to express emotion. There seems to be a growing trend for more emotional expression, as witnessed by the Emoji keyboard; a set of images and emoticons that originated in Japan. This keyboard has become so popular that the images and emoticons are now standardized and built into the handsets of many types of digital devices, like the iPhone.

Nevertheless, there are still psychological and physical consequences to digital communication. One psychological consequence is the over-reliance on digital messaging, which can compromise the ability to develop the emotional intelligence skills associated with interpersonal relationships. Teenagers who rely on digital messaging do not learn to exhibit, or read, the emotional cues that aid in understanding each other. Without the practice of day-to-day conversations, they lose their ability to modify their tone and style depending upon whom they talk to. This, of course, can affect interpersonal situations such as job interviews, managing conflict, and the ability to resolve problems with others. The effectiveness of every relationship depends upon emotional communication.

With respect to physical consequences, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, there are also hormonal changes that apparently occur based on the medium of communication. In an interesting study of 68 girls between the ages of 8 and 12, researchers found that stress hormones differed according to whether they communicated with their mothers through text, phone, or in person.[1] After completing a stressful math and verbal test, the texting group had significantly more stress hormones. Clearly, digital messaging has not been around long enough to know the long-term effects, but this study suggests that more exploration is needed.

In the meantime, it is well known that people with high emotional intelligence have stronger interpersonal relationships. Generally, they are better able to cope with life’s demands and have a better quality of life. Learning this complex set of skills begins early on in life through face-to-face communication and continues to be learnt over time. Since digital communication is here to stay, here are five tips to help ensure you maintain a strong level of emotional intelligence:

  1. Use digital messaging only for non-emotional issues. Emotion has a lot of context, and context is too easily misunderstood through text or email only;
  2. Use digital messaging when you want to broaden your communication, not deepen it. Communication platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have undoubtedly positively affected the extent of our reach to others, but it is no substitute for the immediate, multi-sensual conversation where we pick up emotional cues through our eyes, ears, and sixth sense;
  3. Set boundaries as to when you will communicate through text and email. This tip is similar to some time management techniques where you allot specific times of the day to different activities. Following this guideline will decrease your thought interruptions and allow more time for real-time interactions;
  4. Practice reading emotional expressions. Doing so will sharpen your interpersonal skills, specifically empathy and your ability to read others. Watch a TV program or movie (with good actors), and turn off the sound. This exercise will increase your attention to facial expressions and your accuracy will improve over time; and,
  5. Set an example. Return messages by phone when you can. You’ll probably have a more meaningful discussion and decrease the unnecessary back-and-forth messages that add no value to the discussion. Like muscles, interpersonal skills are strengthened with continued use. Practice using those important listening skills that you won’t get in texting or emailing.

In case you are unfamiliar with texting abbreviations, here is a list of some that are commonly used:

  • ATM – At the moment
  • LMK – Let me know
  • BTW – By the way
  • BAK  – Back at keyboard
  • BAU  – Business as usual
  • BBC  – Big bad challenge
  • IMO  –  In my opinion
  • B2W  – Back to work
  • BRB  –  Be right back
  • FYI  –   For your information
  • W8  –   What?
  • WA8 – Wait
  • XME –  Excuse Me

In case in-person communication is impossible, you don’t have to give up the emotional connection. Here is a list of some alternative methods that incorporate both video and chat:

  • Skype
  • Face Time
  • Google Hang Out
  • Blink
  • ooVoo
  • WeChat

[1] Seltzer, L. (2012). Instant messages vs. speech: Hormones and why we still need to hear each other. Journal of Evolution and Human Behavior, V. 33, p. 43–45.

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