Until the advent of the telephone, communication was face-to-face (yes, there were letters, telegraph, smoke signals, drums, but here we are covering daily communications between regular people). It was one human being using spoken words to be received by another human’s ears. The important matters of businesses, town councils, and governments took place in meetings, where one not only received information but could also see the emotional state of the person speaking. The telephone changed that somewhat especially when the speakerphone (and later the video camera) was invented. However, people still gathered together in real time and space to discuss matters of importance. Then came text messaging and the internet.
Yes, live meetings became the bane of existence for business people. These meetings got the reputation of time wasters, where you were trapped in a room accomplishing little after spending a good chunk of time getting there. So with the creation of electronic devices accessed through high-speed connections, one can be anywhere on the planet and still participate. Cool, right? That’s if there is a video feed to the equation. Most of the time, people just “text” or “post”. So what you get, in essence, is an electronic letter to read which can be misinterpreted in its meaning. Sorry, but “e-moticons” do not count. As humans we need face-to-face communication not only to discern the speaker’s emotional state but also to be able to immediately ask a question to clarify something confusing.
A prime example of how this faceless communication not occurring in real time can go wrong, was recently when President-elect Trump sent his infamous tweet with the word “Nazi” in it. He knew why he was using that to backup a point of his but did anyone other than historians and Baby Boomers get what he was referring to? No. And since tweeting isn’t “real time” even if someone responded to his tweet asking for clarification, he didn’t have the time to send out another tweet to do so. That hardly happens in real time meetings and we saw this during the press conference when a reporter brought it up and Trump went on to explain himself. Bingo, the entire watching universe understood.
I’m not saying that tweeting or texting should be avoided. We can’t go back to the days before these devices and programs were available. However, like we all learned with the e-mail universe, once you hit the send button it’s out there for better or worse. With faceless communications, we all need to try very hard not to say things in a confusing manner or make references that only a certain portion of the population gets (hmm, like telling an in joke that can backfire on you when most of the listeners don’t get it!) It’s also great that now our chief executive can communicate instantly with the masses. Very few previous Presidents had either the technology or the skill to use it as he does.
Meetings have become the dinosaur of the 21st century and Twitter and Facebook have taken its place. It doesn’t matter if you are the President of the United States, or a 12 year old communicating with her best friend, what you say can become a disastrous opportunity to be misunderstood. Keep the message simple, avoid jargon or historical/political references, and you should be on safer ground as a 21st century communicator.