Over and over again, experts insist that face-to-face communication, ideally done in person rather than via video, is best. When that's not available, phone calls usually are the next best choice, since they still let you gather some context and meaning from vocal tone. Yet, increasingly, people are shunning the phone in favor of chat apps and texting, not just in the workplace, but as consumers.
It's not necessarily because of any increase in productivity. As pointed out on Launch Workplaces, 67 percent of executives and managers say productivity would increase if superiors communicated via face-to-face, and certain types of written correspondences, such as extensive email threads, can be time consuming to review and respond to under appropriate confidentiality guidelines.
So why ditch the headset?
1. Apps and texting allow for multitasking and control.
If you use an app, you can do other work--for example, checking a knowledge base or grabbing a snack--without having to worry about the decorum that's normally present in face-to-face or phone-based interaction. You even could be chatting with tech support via an app in the bathroom and not feel embarrassed. Nobody's looking or listening. People like that ability to do what they want on their terms, and in the get-it-now era, they feel more productive and less offensive if they can fill in wait time with other jobs.
2. There's time to think.
When you are face-to-face or on the phone, there's a tendency to want to fill silence as soon as you can. Doing so helps you feel intelligent for having come up with a quick response and, therefore, as good as or better than your conversation partner. Texting or using chat, however, is more forgiving. Pauses are expected. You can hone your response and not send it until you feel confident about it. This can be very important not just for self-esteem, but for carefully building a relationship or making sure that there's no ambiguity in the response. Introverts might find this particularly comforting, but as interpersonal skills generally have waned, people of all personality types might feel more comfortable having the chance to think things through.
3. There can be more privacy.
Written chat or text messages easily can be sent to others or saved. But if proper administrative controls or addressee/room protocols are in place, there is no immediate concern of the information getting into the wrong hands. By contrast, people easily can eavesdrop on phone calls, which can force people to seek out specific places for conversations and feel inconvenienced. The ability to hear phone conversations can be distracting for workers, as well, and it can make consumers feel devalued rather than individually considered.
4. You can share other forms of data.
When you are on the phone, all you can do is talk. But if you're chatting or texting, the app usually allows you to send urls, photos, documents or other media. Being able to do that within one platform can feel like less work or like you are in the loop for being able to take advantage of more technological options.
5. There's less overload.
People are bombarded by input all day long. When the stress adds up, you honestly might not want to deal with others anymore. Working digitally keeps some psychological distance between you and the person you're talking to and is less intimate than verbal communication. It can be easier and less emotionally draining to send a quick written message than engage in several minutes of conversation. At the same time, the psychological distance might help you feel safe enough to communicate things you'd never say aloud.
People have more ways to communicate than ever, and the trend away from phone calls isn't an accident. It stems from very real psychological perceptions and needs. To pull workers and consumers away from chat and text and back to truly meaningful voice-based interaction when it's appropriate, you have to acknowledge these needs and perceptions and work against the systemic and cultural causes behind them. We can respond to preference, but we can shape the preferences themselves, too.