Verbal communication and written communication have distinct advantages. And their uses and perceived value vary widely.
Verbal communication tends to get more attention in terms of its perceived value. This is because there is a lot of additional body senses and psychological interpretation connected to it. For example, there are issues like body language, facial expressions, eye contact, and voice tone and volume.
Written communication seems to be relegated to particular uses and ignored for other ones. This is unfortunate because written communication has advantages that would make it a superior choice in some situations over verbal communication.
The advantages of verbal communication are that you have the opportunity to receive immediate non-verbal and verbal responses. The interpretation of the non-verbal and non-contextual (voice tone and volume) feedback is where things can get dicey. These interpretations can evoke emotional reactions by either party that can disrupt or distort the communication.
If you add in the raw emotions that might exist between sexual partners, family members, or close friends then there is the potential for extreme emotional reactions to body language, facial expressions, eye contact, and voice tone and volume. If both parties have above-average communication skills and maturity, then these reactions can be minimal. In this case, verbal communication can be expedient, thorough, and productive.
There are many advantages to written communication, many of which are often overlooked. You don’t have to deal with immediate emotional verbal and non-verbal responses. You can take as much time as you want to sculpt your communication. And the receiver will not be able to interrupt you or be distracted by non-verbal communication. In fact, to understand the written communication you’ve provided, the receiver will have to give it their full attention and read it carefully.
The lag time between reading written communication and being able to respond is an additional advantage over verbal communication. By default, the receiver will have more time to consider and think about what the sender is trying to communicate. Problems arise when the receiver reacts too quickly and responds to the sender in writing or verbally in the heat of the moment. This is one of the dangerous aspects of email –- the ability to easily send a reply instantly!
If you think about it, the wisdom of not responding to any communication while you are angry has been around for ages. Postal (snail) mail has built-in delay mechanisms whereas email has none of these. So it makes more sense than ever to put off all replies even if you are only slightly irritated.
For the reasons that I’ve already mentioned, I feel that written communication is the best choice in certain situations. Here are a few.
In situations where it would be advantageous for YOU to document particular things for potential evidence, later on, written communication is absolutely the best choice.
For example, if you have a longstanding problem with your landlord about not getting things fixed, then it is in your best interest to send them a letter that details your concerns. Frequently, just doing this will inspire your landlord to take immediate action to correct the problems. A landlord’s quick response is brought about by their recognition of how your written communication has created a legal document.
Problems with Neighbors
Written communications to problem neighbors are best for several reasons. It ensures clarity. It documents the issue(s). And most importantly, it allows you to remain anonymous — if at all possible. This strategy works very well with two of the most common neighbor problems: noise and barking dogs.
I go into great detail about how to deal with these problems in an article on this site entitled, “How to Handle Noisy Neighbors & their Barking Dogs.”
Sensitive Relationship Issues
There is no getting around the fact that discussing problems and concerns with a loved one can be very challenging. This includes family members, close friends, and especially romantic relationships e.g. marriage, engagement, steady, and dating partners.
It is so difficult that the solution for most couples is not to talk about it, but rather sweep it under the rug, or ignore it. The problem is that all too often the issues just build up inside until one or both partners explodes and says and does things that cause permanent damage to the relationship.
I’ve been fascinated by this problem for years. I’ve witnessed and participated in many relationships that could have been better or even great if good communication existed.
Instead, the same misunderstandings and petty issues remained and festered to the point where the relationships began to disintegrate. In less severe cases, the relationship would just stop growing and become stale.
I came up with an idea for a couple’s communication method from the success I had in administering annual reviews with my employees. The review form gave me the opportunity to evaluate and write comments about a broad spectrum of important performance issues. I used the process to praise outstanding performance and guide and inspire improvements. It worked extremely well.
For couples, I expanded the review concept to include an intimate two-way communication exchange. Like the employee review, it includes an evaluative component but it also covers issues important to having an enjoyable, productive, and fulfilling relationship. The system also provides areas to write in your concerns, suggestions, compliments, needs, and desires. At the end of the process, the couple meets to exchange and discuss this information within a set of guidelines designed to create breakthroughs! Up until this meeting, all the activities are done privately. The guidelines perform an intermediary function and the independent activities are mandated to avoid confrontation.
What I ended up with was a short book, featuring a non-confrontational written communication system, called “The Couple’s Review.”
Knowing the advantages of both verbal communication and written communication gives you an edge. When you look for the causes of many problems and missed opportunities, often they can be traced to a communication issue. Selecting the most appropriate form of communication and taking responsibility for its success is the key.