At a sold-out session on Techfestival in Copenhagen 100% of the 90+ attendees stood up when I asked the question:
“Stand up, if you have ever ignored someone on text message”.
E V E R Y
S I N G L E
P E R S O N
in the room had done that.
A little less had been ignored themselves.
In these days, one of the certain issues that always come up in the conversations with my clients, students or friends is about their challenges with digital communication in their relationships. Personal, professional, romantic, parental. Any darn relationship, you can think of.
Often the people severely suffering relationships issues related to digital communication are on the dating market or in new relationships. But I also am spoken to about professional frustrations of low response or transgressive bosses or colleagues texting in the middle of the night, expecting prompt responses. In my own experience, poor digital communication skills became a root of hurtfull relating even in a marriage with a 13-year relationship history.
Let’s face it and embrace it. Digital communication determines the quality of our relationships.
However, the gap between the experience of disappointment, frustration, rejection, hurt — or infatuation, feeling “in love’ or excitement that digital life gives birth to and the amount of time we spend on actually matching expectations, agreeing on norms, codes of conduct, digital communication cultures talking about how we really want digital communication to be in our relationships — is HUGE.
Creating cultures around the general use of the smartphone are one step. Parents asking children to not bring the phone to the dining table. Friends disciplining themselves to keep the phone in their pockets while having that deep conversation. Business meetings where phones are turned on flight or silent mode.
But it is pivotal that we acknowledge that this part of our communication needs special care and attention. In fact, we need to communicate about our digital communication culture now more than ever if we want to support healthy relationships — and make technology work for us instead of against us…
In this article, I focus on personal relationships. But I encourage you to translate and apply the suggestions to your professional lives as well.
Clarifying what love is for you, what your love language is, what your erotic preferences and aspirations are, how you want to deal with other partners, what a meaningful life is individually and as a couple is essential issues to have open conversations about regularly — be it in a new of more established relationship.
I invite you to place your digital love language on the top three of essential themes to clarify in your relationship.
Text, voice or video
According to a friend of mine video messaging saved his long-distance relationship. No texting — only video messages and face-time communication. As he put it — “every time I saw his face, I was reminded of why I was so attracted to him”.
Every single day someone I speak to either in my office or privately includes frustrations about digital life in their discourse.
“Well, the thing is he he didn’t answer my text message until two days later — I think he is withdrawing”, or “I can see he read the message, but he doesn’t answer it back — I feel totally ignored”, or “I wrote this really nice and loving message, but he just answers with a smiley or with a thumbs up, making me feel ridiculous”. You get the picture. People get extremely hurt. Feel profoundly rejected and made indifferent. Waiting for the other to answer back absorbs their attention. And I am no different here. When a former partner decided to not read my messages for 7 days it freaked me out. While he was “processing” and landing in an overwhelm — I was already leaving him in the silence.
The opposite is of course also common. People falling in love, fantasizing life long partnerships with people, whose voice they have not even heard.
The key issue at stake with especially texting is that our projection space is endless. When we neither hear the voice, tonality or see a body language to accompany the words, an “okay” can be cold, warm, rejecting, happy — whatever we feel like.
Does “OK.” mean ‘all is good’ or ‘f*ck off”
In real-life communication, we interpret the message delivered based on words, tonality and body language. Words being the least significant — body language by far the most dominant.
With textmessaging we are at the lowest denominator — and we are forced to completely freestyle when we add the interpretation layers of tonality and body language. Anything written can land as happy, angry, irritated, loving — the text can ‘sound’ whatever you feel like — because there is no sound or image to set a frame for us.
Put in plain language: Text is great for practical stuff — horrible for negative emotional stuff — and can be fantastic for positive emotional stuff.
Voice messaging adds a layer to the communication. You can hear or sense an emotional vibe, giving you a clearer impression of the other person’s state.
Ultimately video messages put both words, tonality and body language into play, providing the most complete way of delivering communication.
Your digital personality — how are you showing up digitally?
Throughout history, humans have created norms and codes of conduct as a means to function as a part of the group. In any group or culture, we have norms defining what it means to be ‘polite’ for instance. If someone talks to us directly IRL, we know inherently that it’s rude not to answer back.
If they’re kind, curious and interested in us, it is a common code of good conduct to equally respond reciprocal interest, etc. That type of obvious codes of conduct is not yet defined in digital culture. And of course not. We have spent thousands of years creating norms for human interaction — how could we over a few years suddenly have integrated norms for digital communication.
However, the time is now. And I invite you to start becoming aware of how you are showing up digitally and who you want to be as a digital communicator.
Your Digital Love Language
Defining your Digital Love Language can form the foundation for all your digital communication.
Here are some questions for you to ponder.
I invite you to take every important relationship into consideration.
Word & Tone
- How do you feel most lovingly / respectfully communicated to on text? How do you feel about one-word answers/replies?
- What is your Emoji language? Is it important for you to have certain emojis?
- Does it matter to you whether it’s an emoji with heart or without an heart?
- Does it matter if there are 2 hearts or just 1 heart, etc.?
- What is important to you when it comes to using emojis at work? What is acceptable in professional relationships?
- What is inappropriate for you?
Time & Rythm
- How often is it important for you to communicate with the specific person?
- How long in between sending and responding do you feel most considerate/respectful to you?
- What triggers uncertainty/feeling of rejection, irritation, frustration, etc.?
- How do you handle when you ‘suddenly’ need to leave a chatting flow?
- How do you handle response time when you are otherwise occupied with a meeting, urgent task, friend — family togetherness, sports, need or want to be offline or out of contact?
- What is important regarding response time on messages that show up as ‘read’ whether it be messenger, whatsApp, iMessage or other?
- What would you like to use text messages for in your relationship? Information, logistics only?
- Expressions of love, sharing of the inner world? Seductions, fantasies and erotic narratives?
- Not at all — you prefer audio or video messages.