Is it better to say it out loud or write it down?

communi

For the past week, I’ve been combing through online ads between work assignments, searching for a secondhand bookcase that would look perfect in our living room.

Every time I find one that seems promising, I send an email asking the seller if it’s still available.  It’s a repetitive task, and without the thrilling prospect of one day finding what I’m looking for, it might even be downright boring.  But there’s something that’s surprised me: Lots of the people I contact via email reply by asking me to call them.  I can’t help wondering why.

Like around 40-65% of the population (depending on what study you read), I’m a visual learner.  For me — and, according to those statistics, quite possibly for you — this kind of exchange just seems to make sense as a written one: with all the information to confirm, from the seller’s address, to the final amount we decide on, it’s a good idea to have everything in writing.

And of course, even if you’re not buying used furniture, writing things down has a lot of other advantages, too.  Here are a few:

– On this reddit comment thread, several people with Aspbergers, speech impediments, and other communication challenges discuss how much easier it is for them to express themselves in writing.

– For speakers of a foreign language like me (I’m an American living in France), jotting things down can be a great way to get past a language barrier, since it gives you time to reflect on words you’re hearing, and lets you visualize them.

– Many people like sharing information via the written word because they can take their time and think about what they’re expressing, rather than just saying something and maybe regretting it or needing to clarify.

So with all of this in mind, why, I thought, would anyone want to discuss non-personal things over the phone?  Sure, a spoken conversation is probably better when you’re talking to friends and loved ones; most of us can agree that hearing a person’s voice adds a certain intimacy to the experience, no matter how far away you are from each other geographically.  But otherwise, why deal with potential risks like bad reception, misunderstandings, or not remembering the details someone’s just blurted out?

But you know what?  Despite all that, it turns out the auditory people of the world might actually be on to something.  In a post I wrote here a few weeks ago, I mentioned the fact that a majority of human communication is nonverbal.  I can’t believe I didn’t think about that when pondering this issue.  Have you ever met someone who said they hated emails because they couldn’t tell if a person was joking or being serious?  They do have a point: an in-person conversation lets you observe things like body language and tone of voice that can (usually) let you know where a person stands.  Even a phone conversation gives you some additional communication cues.  In the case of chatting with a stranger who’s going to come to your apartment to pick something up, this can be a way to gauge if you should trust them or not.

Maybe I’m the one who should think differently about communicating — at least when it comes to dealing with people I’ve never met.  Mind. Blown.  And now, back to searching for the perfect bookcase.

How about you?  Are you more visual or auditory?  How would you communicate with someone who wanted to buy some furniture from you?

By Alysa Salzberg

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