There’s No Messenger in Your Message!

Why Voice and Video Beat Plain Text

Using voice and video for appraisers

If any of you do or have done business with me, you’ll know that I love video. I love it as a medium for delivering content. I love it as a medium for training and coaching people. I love it as a content platform. And I love it as a way to communicate with other human beings when you can’t both be in the same place at the same time. Over the years, I have not only warmed up to this idea of using platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and Skype, I have fully embraced the power that those platforms hold for powerful communication among other human beings, and for the primary reason that, as human beings, we crave connection. While I cannot tell you what the meaning of life is, as if there may be only one, what I am quite sure of is that our species is built for relationships and for connection. We would not have survived on the Savanna for the almost half million years some anthropologists believe some form of human has been around. We’re wired for connection and relationship and the senses we’ve cultivated over that time are primed for identifying that which is safe for us, that which may be some kind of threat or danger to our survival, and that which may actually help us on our journey. The way that we as humans do that is with our eyes, our ears, our ability to speak, our sense of smell, our ability to physically touch stuff, our sophisticated brains being able to interpret and reason through things, and, last but not least, our ability to intuit things. 

The word ‘intuit’ comes, most likely, from old French and Latin. It’s a combination of the root word for ‘in’ or inside’, and ‘tutor’, which meant a guardian, a teacher, or a guide. To intuit something is to have an internal guide, an inside guardian or an internal teacher giving us valuable insight into things. Our internal guide or guardian lets us know if what we’re seeing, hearing, thinking, feeling, and sensing is good for us or not. Our constant overriding of our intuition notwithstanding, if we allow it to do its thing we make better overall decisions on almost everything. Trust your gut! We’ve been told that dozens of times from many different directions throughout life and I for one am in at least 75% support of this advice. The remaining 25% support that I hold back is because we live in a very complex world where trusting our intuition sometimes gets us into trouble. Our natural intuition signals of, ‘is this safe or is this a threat’, have been overridden by the rapidly evolving world we live in, and the sometimes-mixed signals we receive from time to time. It’s no longer a binary choice of choose this and live, or choose that and die, but instead a wild array of choices we have to sift through each moment and make rapid judgments about whether this is a ‘yes’, or whether it’s a ‘no’. When we get a mixed signal, we end up with a ‘maybe’. 

As you well know by now, I talk about time and life management on a regular basis and just how valuable our time is. It’s the most valuable non-renewable resource we all have and, once it’s all gone, there are no do-overs. You get what you get and that’s it. The great thing is that we get to decide, for the most part, how we spend our time and what we spend it on. Studies have been done on how people spend their work time and home time and found that most working people spend, on average, one-third of their workweek inside of email. That means reading emails, digesting emails, trying to interpret exactly what those emails mean, and then trying to craft our own emails. A third of your work time, if you work an average 40-50 hour workweek is between 13 and 17 hours per week reading, writing, and deciphering emails. If you happen to work 60-hour weeks, well that’s 20 hours of your week spent communicating (term used loosely) with other human beings using the written word only. A Canadian study noted in the book, Rehumanize Your Business, written by my great friend, Ethan Beute, found that, on average, people spent almost 12 hours of their workweek on email and about 5 hours of their home life on email. Of course, the study was done pre-pandemic so those numbers would be different today since so many of us work from home. But that doesn’t make it any better for us, just maybe a tad comfier. If we just do some basic math on this, if you were able to shave off even one hour per day of any of the tasks you do during the day, especially email, you will have freed up more than 45 full 8-hour days, or 9 full weeks per year of your life back. But what I’m going to do my best to impress upon you in this episode is not just saving an hour per day by getting more efficient, but how to do what my friend, Ethan, challenges us to do, which is to rehumanize what we do in our lives and our businesses by utilizing one of the simplest and very ubiquitous tools we have available in the 21st century, video. 

If any of you have ever read the book, The Go Giver, one of the chapters and principles is the law of authenticity. What it essentially says is that the most valuable gift we all have to offer is ourselves. When we’re giving our authentic selves to others, we’re giving the most valuable gift we have. What we also know from a whole host of studies, one of the most famous being an 85-year long Harvard study, is that the most powerful influence on our overall health long-term is how happy we are in our relationships. Gary Vaynerchuk, better known as Gary Vee, in his book, The Thank You Economy, says that “no relationships should be taken for granted. They are what life is all about, the whole point. How we cultivate our relationships is often the greatest determinant of the type of life we get to live. Business is no different.” I may be a little more predisposed to see that kind of stuff because I’m already a believer. I’m susceptible to confirmation bias because it’s stuff I’ve spent a lot of time researching, and it’s something I’m teaching and coaching on every single week. I’ve built several successful businesses based on this premise, and I have seen hundreds of other very successful businesses being built on this premise that relationships are the thing! 

So, what does this have to do with the written word, emails, texts, and the like? It has everything to do with all of that because when we write out our thoughts, our ideas, and our words using email and text, we are guaranteeing that those communications are devoid of emotion, gesture, emphasis, and tone. Of course, we have writing tools that allow us to add some emphasis. We can add exclamation points and emojis. I’m also not saying that when we write out emails and texts that we’re not writing with the emotion that we feel. What I’m saying is that, when we send emails and texts to convey our thoughts and emotions, everything is left up to the recipient to interpret what we may have meant, what kind of emotion was trying to be conveyed, what your tone may have been when you wrote it, and what gestures you would have conveyed if you were saying it person. Is that the way we read texts and emails? Do we think about how the writer was moving their hands and their head? Are we imagining what their facial expressions would likely be when they were writing that particular line? Are we hearing their voice in our heads? Well, maybe, depending on how close of a relationship you have with the person. But it’s highly unlikely because the written word is devoid of some of the most important aspects of human communication: gesture, facial recognition and cues, emotive signaling, eye movement, tone, and pace. 

Why do humans choose to use email and text over, say, making a phone call or sending a video? There are several reasons and I’m not opposed to any of them, really. We choose email because it’s convenient for the user on both ends. It’s asynchronous, meaning it does not require somebody to be available at the exact time we’re available, or vice versa. It allows us to gather our thoughts on the topic, it fits into our schedule and when we decide we want to do it, it’s a quick and easy way to communicate a thought or idea, and it allows the person on the receiving end time to read what you’ve sent when it’s convenient for them, and also digest what the sender has written before firing off a response. I’m not against sending emails, at all! I use email daily for much of my work as well. What I am proposing is that you take time to consider what is lost having only written words as a communication tool when we have several considerably better options. Next to email being a huge time suck, one of the second biggest issues with it is just how much time is overspent crafting out what we want to say, laboring over how it’s said, and then falsely believing that we’ve perfectly communicated our thoughts on the topic. In essence, we underestimate how much time it takes us to write emails, and we vastly overestimate the quality of the messages we send. Don’t believe me? 

Another Harvard research study was done with the help of BombBomb, the video communication company, whereby they collected mountains of data from traditional emails, texts, and video messaging. They looked at data points like; time spent, emotional effect, message effectiveness, emotional impact, and several other things. The lead researcher, Dr. Andrew Brodsky, wrote in his conclusion, “…workers often engage in over crafting of email, whereby workers spend extra time crafting messages to the detriment of their productivity, message effectiveness, and well-being.” What he’s saying is that we way overwork in an attempt to organize our words in a way that gets our messages through in the way we intend them. But, since email and text is limited by the absence of all of those very special things that make us human, like gesture, tone, facial cues, inflection, body language, and eye movement, much of our intent is lost when we use typed out text communication only. Where is the relationship in that? You know what you’re trying to say. You know your intentions and the emotions around your message. You can even see it in your words, you can feel it in the message, you can hear it when you read the emails and texts back to yourself because you’re reading them through yourself as the filter! Of course, you can see, hear, taste, smell, and feel all of it! It’s coming from you! Unfortunately, all of that is stripped from your message as soon as you hit send. 

Conversely, those same studies found that by just adding voice alone, no video, ‘reveals the presence of a humanlike mind in the receiver of the message’. What they did in the study was take messages, emails, and prewritten scripts and give them to one set of participants. The participants could only read for themselves the messages and scripts and then they had to answer questions about what they read, what they understood the message to be, what they think and feel about the author of the message, etc. Another set of participants was allowed to listen to an actor speak those same messages and scripts. They did 6 experiments and consistently found that those who merely read the typed-out text on a screen did one primary thing and that was that they dehumanized the writer of those communications. That doesn’t mean the reader of your texts and emails thinks of you as non-human. To dehumanize somebody is simply to remove many of the very human qualities and characteristics inherent in being a human. When we watch or listen to something, our brains allow us to assign intention, emotion, and other human realities to the speaker. It’s part of that 250,000 years of human evolution that helped us hone our intuition about what is safe and what isn’t. When we can, at the very least, hear a person’s voice, our brain lights up in different areas than when we read plain text and we humanize the voice and connect with it. Across all 6 of those experiments, the people who were allowed to listen to the natural speech patterns, the tone, and the message being spoken to them consistently believed the communicators were more thoughtful, more competent, more likable, and more agentic than people who just read the plain text. Agentic, by the way, refers to having agency over oneself, or the ability to make independent decisions and choices. It refers to our ability as humans to act on our own, make and carry out plans, and have control over ourselves. 

What those 6 experiments proved for us is that, when we choose to convey our most important thoughts, ideas, and emotions through plain text only, we are actually encouraging the reader of those thoughts and ideas to remove almost all of what makes us human from the message when they’re reading it. When the recipient of our thoughts and ideas can hear our voices, at a bare minimum, we’re able to magically elicit greater empathy from them. They see you; they hear you; they connect with you as a human being, and they do what my friend, Ethan, calls ‘rehumanizing’ the person on the other end of the communication. Just think about the differences between sending your mother or father an email, versus speaking with them over the phone. With the phone, not only can you hear their voice, which triggers a whole flood of chemicals to release within your body, you’ve got the awesome benefit of a feedback loop. You say something, they react and respond to it. They say something and you react and respond. It’s that feedback loop that most of us crave from our communications with others. Even when we have to send plain text emails, at some level we are waiting for the response from the recipient. It’s nowhere near as immediate as being on the phone or video call with someone because that feedback loop is instantaneous, but in the back of our minds, we’re still waiting. Those of you with read receipts turned on for your text messages so you can see when the recipient has read your message, think about how frustrating it is to know for a fact that your message has been read but there’s no response from the other side. All kinds of thoughts go through your head: ‘are they ignoring me? How rude! That son of a bitch! I poured my heart out and they don’t even have the common decency to send back a message!’ It’s a very frustrating and anxiety-producing experience because of the lack of feedback. It’s disconnected, disjointed, and dehumanized. We do it to them and they do it to us. 

Without going too deep into the history of some form of writing, which dates back some 30,000 years to the ancient cave paintings in the Chauvet Cave in France, some say we’ve actually been communicating via some form of actual text and characters for around 5000 years or so. That’s a long time. But 5000 years of some form of writing communication is a drop in the proverbial bucket when compared to the 150,000 to 250,000 years we’ve been walking upright and honing our ability to perceive through our five physical senses, and the two or three other senses like intuition and whatever else we suspect might be built into us. Some scientists believe it may be as long as one million years that we’ve been around in some basic human form. Even if we settle on the extremely conservative side of that range and say we’ve been developing our ability to communicate for well over 100,000 years, 5000 years of writing is 1/20th of that. We have considerably more evolved tools for sensing, emoting, and making good judgments when we’re allowed to utilize most of our senses, as opposed to limiting the recipient of our communications to plain text only. Why would we want to leave so much of the interpretation and understanding of our message to chance, and potentially misinterpretation, which requires even more time from both parties to go back and forth to clear things up and get something settled. A voice message takes 30 seconds to 2 or so minutes. Crafting that same email would take at least 5 to 25 minutes and invites the recipient to remove almost all of the elements that make you, the sender, human. 

What am I suggesting and recommending with all of this? Hopefully, it’s obvious, but if not, I’m suggesting and recommending that we begin to utilize voice and video considerably more in our communications and we ‘return the messenger to the message’, as Ethan so appropriately says. You may be one of those blessed people who have a natural ability to put into words what others would likely struggle with, and you may have greater success in crafting plain text messages that are more easily interpreted and understood than somebody else. It’s a gift that not everyone has. What everyone does have, and when I say everyone, I mean exactly that, every human being and animal on the planet has a face and, regardless of where you might be standing in the world at this very moment, our faces all speak the same language. Our ability to interpret facial cues and discern emotion is universal and it’s built into all of us. We don’t have to be taught to interpret facial expression, it’s innate and one of the very first things to develop in us as tiny new humans. Babies learn to analyze and process faces and expressions at almost an adult level within just a few months after birth. We have the first 5 to 7 years of learning how to process human faces and expressions to extract meaning from those around us. And it’s the same around the world. Babies in India learn to read their mother’s voice, tone, and her facial expressions in the exact same way as babies in Northern Ireland, Nigeria, China, Japan, Italy, and Greenland. Our social lives and survival skills begin in utero as we start to connect and associate with our mother’s and father’s muffled voice and tone. It expands exponentially as soon as we emerge from the womb and our five senses begin to develop rapidly, and it all begins with voice and faces. 

One of the most poignant quotes I pulled from Ethan’s book is from page 37 where he says, “one of the gifts of being human is that our faces all speak the same language, and we don’t have to learn how to do it. So, why are we hiding our faces so often in our professional lives? How much more successful might we be if we got face to face more often?” Here are a couple of other things Ethan says in his book; “…Even brief eye contact with another person can trigger empathetic feelings and draw us closer together through the release of the neuropeptide hormone oxytocin. Humans are motivated, then, to make and maintain eye contact with one another.” “We’re more likely to remember the face of a person with whom we’ve made eye contact and more likely to believe what he or she says to us. Without eye contact, we perceive people to be less sincere and less conscientious.” “Awareness of the self is preceded by and only made possible through recognition of another person. As we look at another, we look at ourselves and at all of humanity. Through this, we gain a sense of obligation- an ethical and empathic impulse. We’re obliged to return thoughts and behaviors in kind.”

I could go on and on about why it’s so important and valuable to utilize voice and video more in your communications, but hopefully, you’ve gotten the message. Plain text communications suck! We all have to use it and it doesn’t always make sense to whip out your phone and take a video. But when it does make sense, to do that, I strongly encourage you to begin adopting voice and video technology to make your communications 86.2% more effective. I just made that statistic up, but I think you get the point. As human beings, we’re wired to make connections and build relationships, which is very difficult to do via plain text. When something is important, or you really want to be humanized in the mind of the receiver of your message, there are only two options: voice and video. Make a phone call over sending a text. Send a voice message instead of just a plain text. FaceTime somebody instead of phone call if you want the greatest impact. Send a video message over a simple voice message when you can. I know for many of you there is some ego attached, along with the very natural fear of being on camera. I’m also quite sure there is some better way for me to say this than the way I’m about to say it, but get over yourself, friends! Do you want your messages to carry the most weight, empathy, and humanizing qualities, or don’t you? I can tell you after having sent hundreds and hundreds of personalized videos to people that it will take you about 10 or 15 videos before you start to get more comfortable with the process. It’s normal and expected. None of us like to see ourselves on video, and we don’t like to hear our own voices either. We spend our whole lives hearing our own voices from the inside out. When you hear yourself on a recording or a video, there is no more vibration coming from your vocal cords and you’re hearing yourself from a different perspective. What I would encourage you to do is to put your fears and ego aside and think about the tremendous value voice and video messaging has for the sender, that’s you, and even more so the recipient. 

We live in the 21st century, my friends, and with that has come some tremendous advances that allow us to do things we could do just a mere 10 or 20 years ago. Best in class business practices now entails including your customers and clients in the experience. One of the greatest ways to do that is to let them know who you are. Show your face, become top of mind, let them humanize you in a way that plain text does not allow for, and actually encourages the opposite, a dehumanizing of the sender of the message. From my voice to your ears, and until next week my friends, I’m out…

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