In today’s digital age, and in a post-COVID, hybrid working world, so many of us are communicating even more via text, social, Slack, and email.
Many of us are probably guilty of having a disagreement escalate communicating this way. Many people often engage in difficult or emotional conversations electronically because it seems easier, only to regret it later on.
I’ve had some conflicts with important people in my life get blown way out of proportion, mainly because I engaged electronically, instead of speaking to them live.
In almost every one of these situations, I can see that it was my fear of engaging directly, in real-time that escalated things.
Why Do We Fail to Understand the Importance of Live Conversations?
Why do we fear to connect live, even though most of us know better? Why do we choose to have certain important conversations electronically rather than in person?
Our Primary Mode of Communication
For most of us, our primary mode of communication is electronic (email, text, social, Slack, etc.) these days – both personally and professionally.
It Seems Easier
It can sometimes seem easier for us to be honest and direct in writing because we can say what is true for us without having to worry about the in-the-moment reaction of others.
Electronic communication takes way less courage than having a live, real conversation with another human being (on the phone, on video, or in person). When we talk to people live we have to deal with our fear of rejection, fear of being hurt, and our tendency to “sell out” on ourselves and not speak our full truth. Avoiding live conversations and choosing to put it in writing sometimes feels safer and can allow us to say things we might otherwise withhold.
It is much less likely for us to work through conflicts, align with one another, and build trust and connection when we avoid talking live to each other about important stuff.
Anything we’re willing to engage in electronically can usually be resolved much more quickly, effectively, and compassionately by having a live conversation, even if we’re scared to do so. The fear may be real, but most often the actual threat is not.
How to Practice Engaging in Live Conversations
Here are some things you can do to practice engaging in live conversations with people more often and, ultimately, more successfully.
Be clear about your intention
Before initiating an electronic communication, ask yourself, “What’s my intention?”
If you’re about to engage in something that is in any way emotionally charged, about a conflict, or important on an interpersonal level, check in to make sure you’re not simply sending the message to avoid dealing with it and the person(s) involved directly.
Be honest with yourself about how you feel, what you want, and why you’re about to engage in the specific type and form of communication you’re choosing.
Don’t send everything you write
Expressing ourselves freely and unfiltered through writing can serve as a very important exercise, especially when dealing with conflicts or issues.
Remember: we don’t have to send everything we write!
One great exercise to practice is saving an email or text in your drafts or notes and reading it again later (maybe after you’ve calmed down a bit or even the following day.)
Writing out our thoughts and emotions before sending them gives us a safe space to release and process our feelings privately, which can lead to clarity and help us consider different perspectives.
By organizing our thoughts we can communicate more effectively and reduce the chances of creating conflict. Taking time before sending can also help us approach situations with a calmer mindset, which can go a long way in preventing us from sending an impulsive message that we’ll later regret.
Request a call or live meeting
Before engaging in a long, emotional electronic exchange, it can often be best to simply request a specific time to talk about the situation live – in-person, on video, or via phone.
Face to face is always best if you can make it happen, but if that poses a big challenge or isn’t logistically, connecting on video or talking on the phone can also work well.
A great response can simply be, “Thanks for your note, this seems like something that would be better to discuss live than electronically, let’s set up a time to talk later today or this week.”
Speak your truth, without judgment or blame
When you do engage in the live conversation (in person or virtually), focus on being real, not right.
Speak your truth by using “I statements,” (I think, I feel, I notice, I want, etc.).
As soon as you move into blame or judgment, you cut off the possibility of any true resolution. Own your judgments and notice if you start to blame the other person(s) involved. If so, acknowledge it, apologize for it, and get back to speaking your truth in a real way.
Get support from others
Reaching out for support from people we trust and respect is a great way to deal with emotionally-charged issues. Try to get feedback from people who will be honest with you, and who aren’t too personally connected to the situation themselves.
Whether it is to bounce ideas off of, get specific coaching or feedback, or simply to help you process through your own fear, anger, or tendency to overreact, getting support from those around you in the process is essential. You don’t have to do it alone and you’re not the only ones who struggle with things like this.
Let’s Remember the Importance of Live Conversations
Living life, doing our work, and interacting with the other human beings around us can be wonderfully exciting and incredibly challenging, especially these days with all we’ve been through and the continued uncertainty that exists everywhere.
Conflicts are a natural part of life, relationships, and work. We can learn so much about ourselves and others through engaging in productive disagreements and important conversations.
The ultimate goal isn’t to live a conflict-free life; it’s to be able to engage with those around us in a way that is productive, healthy, kind, and effective. When we remember that live conversations, even if they can be scary at first, are always the best way to go, we can save ourselves from needless worry, stress and suffering – and in the process resolve our conflicts much more quickly, easily, and successfully.
Are there situations in your life that require live conversations where you have either been avoiding or communicating electronically – and they’re not getting resolved? What can you do to address these situations directly – and have live conversations with those people? Share your ideas, commitments, thoughts, dreams, and more below.
This article was originally published in 2011 and updated for 2023.