Joseph Grenny is the author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.
Dear Crucial Skills,
My youngest daughter lives several states away and it is difficult at best to have a conversation with her. Nearly all our communication comes via text messaging and e-mail. If this happened on occasion, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it seems that 99.9 percent of our conversations are through texting. As a result, we have had misunderstandings from time to time. My daughter hates talking on the phone so we’re stuck in this e-communication trap. Any suggestions on how to effectively broach this “new” technology and reduce the chances of misunderstandings?
It’s kind of ironic that I’m answering your question about the perils of electronic communication using electronic communication. It’s especially so because I’m going to make a bunch of assumptions about what’s really going on in order to offer you a buffet of ideas. But let’s agree that this is the kind of buffet where you take what you want and leave the rest—so I can run wild with ideas without making hurtful judgments. In fact, my guesses are likely to reveal more about myself than you! So relax and enjoy.
1. Hold the right conversation. The first crucial conversation you need to hold is with yourself. You may want to consider whether her preference for texting is simply generational or is evidence of some other concern. For example, is she using texting to maintain some boundaries with you? If she felt you were not allowing her enough distance and independence, she might use texting as a convenient way to maintain emotional space. Or is there some other issue that would cause her to “act out” her feelings using texting rather than talking them out in a more direct way?
This introspection is important because if there is something else in the relationship that you need to deal with it would be important to identify the issue rather than assume she is simply a poor judge of good communication vehicles. If there is another issue, I’d suggest you take that up with her first.
2. Work on me first. If you’re confident the relationship is up to date and the issue is truly that she’s substituting convenience for effectiveness, then my best advice is that you lead by example. She’s your youngest, right? Well, it may be unwise to expect her to appreciate the niceties of mature communication for years to come. So I’d suggest when you see the issue requires more bandwidth than texting, you pick up the phone and make it happen. I’d also suggest you do this sparingly for reason #1 above. I’m reading into this—but with most kids the development of independence is an important psychological process that can take years. Talking with you on the phone may remind her of the power differential between the two of you that she has experienced her whole life. If that’s part of the dynamic here, it’s best to ask her to experience that as seldom as necessary.
3. Master your story. This last suggestion is highly autobiographical. When I make brilliant and very wise suggestions to my kids and they ignore them, I notice that I feel much more bothered than I should if my only motive were their betterment. In fact, I often feel a bit peeved. When I break down this emotion, I have to admit that the reason for my excess irritation is not their disregard of my supernal gift on insight, but the story I’m telling myself about their choice. I tell myself that their decision is evidence of disrespect. Or worse, intentional rebellion. In doing so, I am giving them advice with big strings attached. I’m not saying, “Here’s a useful idea.” Rather, I’m saying, “Do you like me?” or “Do you respect me?” Because somewhere in my subconscious, I believe that if they truly respected me, then they’d always take my advice.
I’ve found that I cannot be a good influence on my kids unless I master this story. Especially with adult children, I must be willing to respect their independence and offer ideas with no such emotional strings attached. When I cleanse myself of this hidden agenda, I find they respond much differently to my advice. And I respond much differently to their response.
Best wishes in your virtual—and actual—relationships!