Evocative Texting

Texting is a digital activity. It doesn’t take place in the physical presence of other people. I know that is obvious but I’m restating it for a reason. We need the basic idea in front of us before we go on.

When you text someone, you aren’t sharing the same physical space. There are possible advantages and disadvantages to that:

On the plus side:

– it allows us to communicate from just about anywhere, anytime

– we can fit communication in to other activities we are doing

– it isn’t dependent on being in the same space as the other person

– it’s uncomplicated and can facilitate fast communication, efficiently

On the minus side:

– we miss out on what our senses might tell us, as well as the social aspect of sharing the same space

– texts can expand into long threads of chat with scope for time wasting and misunderstanding

– it can sometimes feel a bit cold

– it can sometimes intrude on what we are currently doing in the space we are in

It is often mentioned that what we mostly lose is eye contact; we aren’t aware of what is going on for the other person, what emotional state they might in, we lose nuance and detail that our senses can give us. We can also lose the chance to communicate more fully with the other person.

We also lose something else. We lose the physical context of the other person. They may be relaxed, sitting in the sunshine at a table at an outdoor cafe. We may be holed up on a stuffy train, stuck between two stations, feeling irritated.

This is where evocative texting can enrich and add context to texts. We don’t need to evocatively text for every text, but well chosen ones can build social bridges, even bridges of clarity and understanding that can:

– help to offset what is lost with disembodied communication

– add colour and warmth, as well as humour to a text exchange

– help to clarify and clear up any misunderstandings from the style and choice of a text that might be being influenced by the person’s emotional state and effect of their surroundings on their texting

– help to inform whether a lengthening text exchange should be delayed until a later time

An evocative text can take one of two forms. You can use both forms in the same text, or use them separately:

1. Evoking the personal state

Here we use language to describe what is going on for us inside, and in our current physical location. For example:

“Hi John. Sending you a sneezy text…”

“Best wishes from a multi-tasking, overloaded Manvinder”

“After three intense re-reads, here’s my availability for the report meeting…”

We use a few phrases that add a bit of colour and description to our text. This can create a bit of empathy and increase the social element of the text.  If the need is for social as well as informational connection, this can improve the flow of the texts and actually clear up and prevent possibly misunderstandings. Using more evocative texting needs to be truthful if trust is to be at its core, but it can also create needed leeway and tolerance. People can be over-intolerant via the texting medium as fingertips can be impulsive. So, this kind of evocative texting can also provide helpful information that guides the response of the other…

“I’ll get back to you by the end of today, migraine permitting”

“My initial reaction is a provisional yes. But imagine me frowning here, my “I need more info” frown

“Will respond with a decision after I’ve let this coffee wake me up.


2. Evoking the physical context

Here we range beyond our own personal state alone ad evoke our physical surroundings. This can be for purely social reasons that add warmth and humour to the text interaction. But it can also help to inform the text and improve the mutual understanding of the quality and style of that interaction. For example:

“I’ll try to call within an hour. But this is a train with no love of a decent mobile signal”

“Sun shining here. When are you free to meet?

“On my way, Best regards from a train running three hours late.

“Can’t call. Other people in the car.”

Just a few words of evocation can clarify the context but also fill a social gap that is sometimes created when texts need to do more than just exchange cold information. When cold information is linked to the completion of work tasks within time frames, evoking context can explain delay and also the possible influences of that context on performance quality. For example, objectivity, if we are tired or overloaded.

When we are put under pressure out of usual working hours, evocative texting is a good way of giving the pressuriser context that can help them rethink the need for a task to be done. For example:

“Trying to read your report on a very noisy train.”

Evocative texting can aid our effectiveness in our digital and physical world, and it can also support a culture of social warmth, openness, honesty and trust. Some of us do it anyway and always have. But many texters leave out the personal and physical context, fail to evoke and this often leads to misunderstanding and false assumptions. The lack of a reply worries us. Did we offend the other person? Are they avoiding us. Whereas: “Will get back to you as soon as I’m back in a town with a decent wi-fi signal” can prevent those worries and assumptions. “OK” can create all sorts of concerns and misinterpretations, whereas “For sure, though this overheated meeting might overrun as usual” can clarify, raise a smile and aid the workflow.

Of course, evocative texting has to be done skilfully. It’s a genre of writing and can also create its own misunderstanding, and generate negative reactions. But that is why it needs to be eloquent: short, simple and using creativity to find just the right, needed words, that also respect the context of both parties in the text exchange. We aren’t looking for text novels, nor misplaced and mistimed jokes. The best guide for evocation is to be descriptive and truthful. Add humour and a bit of literary “license” as your own confident, past experience and skill allows.

We often get more fluent and eloquent with practice. They are worth reading back to yourself before you send them. They shouldn’t step over any organisational lines of “governance” or set you up for line manager trouble. They aren’t stand-up text comedy routines not opportunities for flirtation. They are there to use creativity and artistry to contextually inform in ways that improve the flow of the text, the quality of its understanding and, ultimately, the flow and quality of the working you are doing

How to evocatively text? Well, it’s a writing skill – it draws of poetry and the writing of fiction. It’s harder to write shorter phrases that really evoke well.

Training in communication in businesses and organisations that rely a lot on micro-messaging and texting need to see these writing skills as important as the many other skills employees, managers and leaders learn in order to be effective in their work. This training needs to cover:

– the art of texting

– different types of text

– identifying and describing the personal and surrounding context of a text

– forming evocative texts

– adjusting and evaluating their effectiveness

Evocative texting can make texting more effective and also more social, more enjoyable and even impact on the flow of work in the wider organisation.

About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on October 1, 2013, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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