Thanks to the pandemic, it seems that everyone is engaging in a lot more asynchronous communication than ever before. Or, is it simply that those older than the millennials are catching up to what the millennials have been doing all along: texting their way through the day?

A  recent blog post on the Harvard Pons website examines the difficulty of texting as a means of resolving a hostage situation. Entitled “Negotiation Examples: How Crisis Negotiators Use Text Messaging” by Katie Shonk (September 7, 2020), the article comments that as recently as six years ago, trainers in hostage negotiations were not teaching texting as a tool to be used in negotiating with hostage takers. One cannot engage in “emotional labeling” or affect labeling via text (ex. “You sound angry.”). (Id.)

But suddenly these trainers found that the hostage takers were millennials- those born between the late 1970’s and early 1990’s- who immediately started using texting to convey their demands. So, the trainers changed their training strategies to suggest that when the hostage taker starts texting demands, the goal of the negotiator should be to convince the hostage taker to put down the texting application and use the telephone application instead. That is, to stop texting and start conversing by telephone.

As  one can imagine, while it is difficult to negotiate by e mail, it is even more difficult to do so by text. Both e mailing and texting are asynchronous or one-sided communication. And texting is usually a much shorter cryptic message. As words make up only 7% of our communication with body language and tone making up the remaining 93%, a lot gets lost in the simple reading of words in an email or a text. (Id.)

So, perhaps in our real life everyday situations, we should all take a cue from hostage negotiators; if someone wants to resolve a dispute using texting or email, our goal should be to convince that person to pick up the phone, or even better yet, agree to some form of video conferencing so that we can not only hear the words, but hear the tone and watch the body language as well. Synchronous communication allows each party to more accurately and effectively  read and understand both the verbal and non- verbal cues of the other so that the points raised will not “get lost in translation” and instead lead to a resolution.

…Just something to think about.


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