Shrink social distance by leveraging this undervalued communication technology

Like many of you, I’ve found that social distancing measures have forced me to reflect on what I really value, who I really care about, and why I didn’t buy shares in Zoom before March 1st of this year.

As soon as social distancing went into effect, the whole world flooded onto video conferencing platforms, assuming that video technology offered the best way to replace the immediacy and intimacy of live meetings. Like all hasty assumptions, this one deserves to be scrutinized.

In your hurry to jump into a Zoom room, are you overlooking the potential to deepen business relationships through the power of writing?

I’m not denying the advantages of newer communications technology. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been grateful for the way video streaming has enabled me to see the faces of loved ones, gather with my faith community, and enjoy a virtual sushi dinner party with friends. But let’s not overlook the power of our oldest communications tool: the written word.

As with any legacy technology, writing gets criticized for being too slow and feature-poor. Here are just some of the common complaints I hear:

  • It’s too slow. You can quickly “hop” onto a Zoom call, but a well-crafted email can take 30 minutes or an hour to prepare.

  • It’s one-dimensional. Compared with video, writing gives us few clues to help us interpret the intended meaning. We don’t get any signals from tone of voice, for example, or from onscreen body language.

  • It’s asynchronous. Feedback isn’t instantaneous, and a lot can go wrong when the parties communicating aren’t tuned in to each other in real time.

  • It has a lacklustre user interface. The interface hasn’t received a significant update since the early part of the twentieth century, when spellings and typography were standardized.

  • It requires a high level of skill. It takes little training to launch a Zoom session. Anyone from 8 to 98 can master the steps in just a few minutes. On the other hand, creating clear, concise writing requires skills that take time to develop.

On the surface, these criticisms seem fair enough. But if we look closely at the alleged shortcomings, each of them also functions as an advantage. As business becomes increasingly virtual, writing offers powerful ways to shrink social distance by creating meaningful connections with clients, colleagues, and investors. For instance:

  • Your “slow” makes it quick and easy for your audience to access information. A well-crafted email or document takes just seconds or minutes to digest, without the hassle of scheduling and attending a meeting.

  • The lack of contextual cues encourages intimacy. Without the distraction of watching the person receiving the message, writers are apt to divulge more about themselves via email than they would in a face-to-face conversation. This tendency creates rich opportunities for relationship-building in a virtual world.

  • Asynchronicity allows time for reflection. In a world obsessed with speed, writing gives an audience time to slow down and process information and ideas. It creates space for a thoughtful, genuine response rather than a knee-jerk reaction.

  • The minimalist user interface works on any device. No need to fiddle with apps or audio settings or to worry about wi-fi access.

  • The investment of time and skill shows you care. Because writing is a craft that takes effort to practice, a well-written message shows consideration for your audience. Clear, concise writing says you took pains to make the reading experience painless for your audience and to package your meaning in a form that’s easy for them to share with others.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been intrigued—and hopeful—to hear people from various walks of life talk about how social isolation is forcing them to slow down and focus on what really matters. So before you go “zooming” into your next conference call, perhaps it’s worth pausing to weigh the trade-offs involved in making video your default communication mode.

In a culture that favors the instant and the effortless, writing may seem an old-fashioned technology. Yet it offers rich opportunities for showing care and concern for your audience and connecting with them at a deep level.

Curious about how you could be leveraging writing to create more meaningful relationships with clients and investors? Ask me about a free email audit (a live review of three to five email messages):

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