Fine does not always mean fine, so says my friend.
Sitting in her office earlier this week we were talking about how our kids consider texting each other to be the same as speaking verbally. Today, many people use the two terms interchangeably without a thought.
“There is a difference,” she said. “Fine is not always fine. I want to hear if your fine means fine or maybe something a bit less. All that important nuance gets lost in the translation of texting.”
Her words reminded me of a conversation that same day where my daughter was using the term, texting, interchangeably with talking. She’d said she’d been speaking with a friend — someone halfway around the globe.
“You guys actually spoke?” I asked.
She acted as if I’d missed a critical class in basic communications along the way.
“No, no one talks on the phone anymore. We text each other.”
Fine, I thought to myself.
The art of conversation is simply that, an art form. Like learning to dance, carrying on a good conversation is an acquired ability. Without repeated practice, we are never sufficiently challenged to improve and sharpen our skills. And without putting in the time and effort, we tend to speak with two left feet.
Quality conversation is all about the other person listening, responding, moving the conversation forward in sync with the other person leading whenever possible. And, like dancing, being nimble on your figurative feet is key to being able to both see and feel the emotional tells from the other person. You are always scrutinizing the words selected (why that particular word?), reading for emotional body language (eyes darting or looking away?), and being aware of the unspoken emotions (sense any changes in the speakers cadence?).
Texting, however, is a cold and lifeless form of communication absent of genuine emotion. Emoticons are not a substitute for reading the small pause in someone’s reply to an innocent question of how they are. Empathy simply does not translate through a keyboard. And many times, this lack of multidimensional communication leaves a receiver misinterpreting the message.
Spoken communication is a critical component of society. Without developing the important skills to accurately read and correctly react to a live conversation, one leaves room for misinterpretation. And misinterpretation leads to hurt feelings or inappropriate replies. Verbal stepping on toes, so to say.
So where do we go from here? What does this new social acceptability of nonverbal communication mean for society? Does the loss of the art form of highly developed conversational skills potentially point to a future of more confusion and more miscommunication?
The old phrase “lost in translation” is appropriate here. Translating from one language to another requires a measure of understanding the receiver may not have to fully understand the message as intended.
Which brings me back to my friend’s point about the important difference between texting and verbally communicating. She told me she was fine — and I believed her. All the other signs told me so.