Talk in person

I think a ~decent amount about advice I would give my former self. I am not sure why I do this. The past is the past and, well, it is impossible to change the past. This sort of self-talk, perhaps, is less advice for my past and moreso reinforcement for my future.

In some ways, I think of myself as an evolving, fluid person. Every day is a new day, with new opportunities and challenges to define my identity. In other ways, I see myself as ME. Me in the context that I represent my core, and my core, for the entirety of my conscious life, has been rather consistent. Sure, it evolves and grows, but at the end of the day, I am the one in control.

I give the above disclaimer of sorts as I, on my walk earlier today, came across a topic or note that stuck with me. (Aside, my imagination here feels a bit like a librarian, sifting through a crowded stack of memories sifting for the appropriate idea to allow to pass through me for the moment).

The idea I have been thinking about is the prompt: If I could give prior myself any particular advice, what would I say?

Surely there is a lot that could fit into this category—heck, I am writing a whole million words roughly around this topic—but one small idea that came to mind is the notion that I should handle more things in person (as opposed to say, via text message or phone calls).

If I were to look back at my most frustrated moments over the past ~decade (we are going way back, back to when I was still in high school, back when phones were still called smartphones, really)—I think an extremely large percentage of them were captured and/or triggered via a digital medium.

A note about me is that I would say my communication style biases towards the confrontational side. I tend to speak quite directly and say what I think. I give lots of feedback, especially at work. And this leads people to sometimes have difficulty in working with me, and/or problems with my approach. We can save the effectiveness or appropriateness of my approach for a different essay—what is important is recognizing that I am the type of person that probably gets in more confrontations than the average person, by at least a standard deviation and perhaps even more.

This is not an award or something that should necessarily be celebrated. But I did want to call out that “getting in an argument” is not particularly uncommon for me.

And so, when I think back to my arguments of the past few years, especially as worked has ramped up, I notice one particular trend. And that trend is they _often_ (certainly not always) START via an asynchronous written communication.

It is often a text message of sorts (via Slack, phone, or email).

A little tiny message that becomes responsible for starting an entire argument of sorts.

An argument that would very likely have been better handled in person. But I, and yes I take responsibility for that, keep the thread going via messages. Instead of going in person—I push with words. I keep the back and forth argument going. I think it will work. And it very very rarely does. Why do I do that? I know there is a better path.

For some odd? reason, very rarely am I in a verbal altercation in person. In person, there is more laughter and more smiling and more understanding of one another.

The judgements are less wrong.

When I am talking live with someone, especially in person, but at minimum via Zoom or some sort of Facetime, I find different results. I find people less upset with me. I find myself less upset. And I find us getting to a resolution more often.

Why is this the case?

There are likely several reasons but perhaps the biggest one is the reminder of both sides human-ness being made explicit via a medium where you can actually see each other (versus say the black and white of text which tends to nullify your human qualities so you are reduced to your words).

For a long time—I have said to prefer people write things out to me. It forces them to think and care about their words. At least I thought. It turns out that not everyone, for some good reasons, biases so strongly to caring hugely about the details of their written words. Their emotion gets lost behind the logic, and they are not able to explain themselves. They also complain that reading and writing takes a long time.

Eh. Eh.

I do think this is a fault of them—they should learn to write better and read faster, that is possible. And I think at work they will run into trouble if they cannot do these things at least reasonably well and ideally extremely well.

But I also think that I have glazed over the most important piece of the exchange of communication—which is the relationship that is either implicitly or explicitly built between the two parties.

And when people are just super-fast-responding via text or Slack, that relationship sometimes deterioriates.

It quickly becomes less about the words you are saying and more about how you say them and when you say them.

People do not feel heard.

People do not feel understood.

People do no feel safe.

The whole tone is lost such that you are guessing how someone is actually feeling. Are they mad? They said they were not. But how do they sound? How do they feel?

All this context is lost.

This is a big failure mode—so if I were to give myself direct advice, it would be to have a mental thermometer open, such that when you see a situation is trending towards an argument, just offer to talk live (ideally in person). You will, no matter what, find a better outcome as a result.

Talk in person.


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