We’ve all been there.

You need to say something to someone. Set a boundary. Air your grievances. Communicate your needs. But the idea of saying something difficult to someone’s face can be unthinkable for some folks. Not everyone is taught to communicate in the same way. There may be very legitimate reasons for your dislike of face to face conversations including past bad experiences sharing and social anxiety, just to name a couple. While we are moving toward a culture that’s more accepting of casual forms of communication, there are still some things that are best discussed in person. The tricky part, sometimes, is deciding what method of communication is appropriate. 

So, what are your options for communicating with other people? In general, our choices are texting or other written communication, voice messages, and in-person chats. These options range from not super intimate (texting) to potentially very intimate (in-person), so keep that in mind when choosing your method of communication. 

There are definite benefits to communicating via text instead of face to face.

With texting, you can remove some of the awkwardness of having a hard conversation face to face. You can also think carefully about your words before you send them to the other person. Having a serious conversation over text can also be helpful to the other person – it gives them time to compose themselves if they’re upset and to reply in a thoughtful way instead of having to respond instantly in person.

However, there are also reasons why texting might not be the most appropriate method of conversation. When you have a talk over text, you have to wait for the other person to respond. Waiting for a message back after you’ve texted something serious can heighten the anxiety of the situation. It’s also nice to keep in mind that not everyone communicates well through the written word, so texting isn’t always the way to go. Finally, texting offers the least information of any of the above communication styles, so misunderstandings are more common via text message. Without the benefit of tone and nonverbal communication like body language, your message might not get through at first. 

One way to decide what method of communication to use is to decide what message you want to send.

There are different aspects of communication to consider. Of course, words are a part of conversing, whether they’re spoken or typed. There’s also tone to take into consideration – the way someone says something can be as important as what they say. Another aspect of communication is body language – this can be an important source of information during a conversation. 

When you think about the methods of communication that you use, consider which aspects of communication they provide.

  • Texting/email/social media posts: words
  • Phone calls and voice messages: words + tone
  • In-person (or on video chat): words + tone + body language

You can kind of think of these options as a spectrum. The first option, texting, offers the fewest aspects of communication, while in-person talks offer the most. However, sending a text is generally less involved than talking to someone in person. As the available information increases (tone, body language), the task becomes harder. 

Trying to decide which type of communication is right for you is probably going to depend on the situation. What works for talking to your best friend about canceling plans probably won’t work for talking to your boss about getting a raise. 

In general, a good rule of thumb is that the more serious the conversation is, the more clear the communication should be.

Since texting is the simplest and least clear method, a serious conversation might not be appropriate in a text-only format. Talking in person can be uncomfortable, sure, but it can also lead to fewer misunderstandings and can be less time consuming than a long text thread. 

Another option is to directly ask the other person how they communicate best. You might be nervous to have a serious talk via texting and then find out that that’s how they’d prefer to talk too. Everyone communicates differently, so what works for you might not work for someone else and vice versa. If you feel safe enough to do so, get in touch with the other person and ask how they like to have serious conversations. 

Finally, some folks have intense anxiety about talking to other people. If the only way you can communicate effectively is through text message, then it’s probably better to communicate that way than not at all.

You deserve to communicate your needs in whatever way works for you. Just know that sometimes you might have to clarify further or explain yourself when you communicate over text.

Our options for communicating are only growing by the day. Because of this, it’s nice to find your boundaries for different types of communication. Remember, your communication method of choice will probably vary from situation to situation, and that’s okay! Think carefully about what message you want to send. Then choose the communication method that matches up with that AND lets you communicate confidently. If you need help deciding how to communicate best with other people, our therapists can help you come up with a plan that works for you.