Writing emails is something I’ve become accustomed to. But the way I write emails is grounded in the way I learned to write letters. I, for example, still remember how I invested time to understand how French letters end. There used to be something like a politeness formula to be used according to some protocol the French would know. Nowadays, it seems to have disappeared.
Today, different channels have led to very different ways to set up a message. Sometimes nothing is addressing the recipient, and even more often it seems that closing formulas have disappeared within short message services. In email’s they still be found, however quite often in an automated fashion. And sometimes one will notice small shifts in the way they are set up.
Comments in a discussion thread follow yet another set of rules. They most often are used to immediately jump into the conversation.
While all of this might look like being very effective, it moves away from the way people intuitively structure conversations.
Normally a face-to-face conversation starts with a greeting to acknowledge the presence of the other and include him in the conversation. What follows most often is a bit of chit-chat. It helps us feel the temperature and know how available the other is to our conversation. But it also gives us the time to become available to the conversation. It’s only after that, that people will address what seems to be the task at hand.
Interestingly, all of these steps happen with a sense of distance between those involved. That is true even if people hug for example. The distance one can notice correlates with the time needed to connect and feel a sense of connection. That distance allows those involved to take the time to notice how safe they feel. Intuitively it is used to define the proximity and thus vulnerability one is willing to bring up. Naturally, this can shift as the conversation evolves, depending on the events. Whenever a vulnerability is possible, it can allow for moments of intimacy. Such moments are necessary ingredients to feel connected. They enable the relationship to develop a deeper sense of connection.
With written messages becoming shorter and more to the point, they provide fewer such opportunities to feel connected.
Counterintuitively, the result is, that the more possibilities we have to establish written connections, the less effort is being put into connecting, and the more transactional relationships become.
However, being transactional feels like contributing to achieving the task, especially in a world focused on performance and achievements.
Such a perspective makes it easy to shift the objective of communication away from establishing the relationship as an opportunity to ease cooperation. Focusing on transactional communication the setting is different and the only remaining objective is to achieve the task.
Which works well, until a relationship is needed to enable trusting one another.