When voice is preferred to text (rarely)

Although text seems to be preferred in most interactions essentially because of its asynchronous nature, there are  topics and discussions that can only be done orally and synchronously. When there is a complex issue, a certain level of disagreement or ambiguity, when the interlocutors don’t really understand each other, voice calls are by far preferred to other channels.

We have often heard IM users telling us that if there is any doubt that the person they are writing to is upset or angry or not understanding the register of what is being written, then they quickly make a phone call to disambiguate the situation. Similarly when people must discuss a complex topic where the conversation requires mutual adjustments and tuning, then again voice is preferred.

In our research we have seen that in business environments when people have a different level of understanding of an issue or come tiogether from different professional backgrounds, they tend to engage in more meetings and more voice calls. Professionals with similar backgrounds working on a project seem to rely more on email, IM or wikis, because they share much more of the background context. The possibility to immediately adjust ones response to the other person, allow speakers to address far more complex relational situations than with other channels. This is why voice is systematically preferred in initial phases of business negotiations.

There are also cases in which it is socially unacceptable not to use a voice and synchronous channel. An example, of topics that are generally addressed by voice and synchronously, are notifications (Ryan…) : there are some types of news that can only be notified by face to face or in verbal one to one form, e.g. bad news about a patient’s health, the death of a close person, etc. The ritual regarding the transfer of this news requires a sense of respect for the receiver of the information that must be put in a position to express his feelings, concerns etc. The giver of information must be able to read these expressions and modulate his message or enter in a discussion. Sending a bad news by asynchronous medium means that the sender does not want to enter into that negotiation process and does not want to handle the reactions of the receiver.

This is seen as profoundly disrespectful and cowardly. Violations of this principle are so serious that occasionally the press reports them, as in the case of a company informing its employees by SMS that they were being made redundant. The media also often comment on the fact that teenagers dump each other via SMS or Facebook, giving this as an extreme example of the generational transformations incurred following the adoption of the Internet and cell phones.

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