The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw

Office communication used to be limited to just a few options: face-to-face, the memo and, over time, the phone. Today, that number has ballooned to include social media, text, email, instant message and an array of others. Each has their own place that, when used properly, conveys a clear message to the recipient.

However, as technology evolves so does an individual’s approach to communication. At one time, all important discussions came in some form of a sit-down meeting. Today, that can happen in person but also over video conferencing and even email. Text and email are the most concerning options because of an increased reliance many individuals and businesses put on them when discussing important matters. If you are discussing serious issues in any written format, I implore you to change your approach as soon as possible. Your message may be getting misconstrued and unintended meanings can certainly arise.

Here’s why you should practice restraint when it comes to high-stakes discussions occurring over text:

Evolution of Office Communication

Even when speaking directly to our colleagues, miscommunications are bound to happen from time-to-time. But those miscommunications rarely come about unless someone’s tone or demeanor is misconstrued. That remained the case as face-to-face interactions expanded to the telephone and similar office technology. While these advances came into the workplace, so too, came text communication. With written communication, tone and demeanor became much more uncertain. What one person interpreted as pragmatic and direct could have been received as rude and blunt to another associate, while another thinks it light-hearted and fun. With text, the interpretation of your message can vary.

For many years, the letters and interoffice memo’s were the only written tools for discussion. That all changed when technology began to catch up with our written dialogue. Soon enough, emails and texts flooded our personal and professional lives. While certainly convenient for reminders and casual discussion, they soon became go-to sources for a large number of professionals when communicating any and all topics.

That’s when the problem began to bubble to the surface. Instead of streamlining conversations through text, the workforce began to cloud issues more with vague sounding emails and responses. With a potentially ambiguous response on the screen replacing a human, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that offices began to see a rise in confusion amongst colleagues. In some cases, confusion spread to passive aggressiveness–a killer of office culture.

In recent years, some executives and companies began to shift their approach to a healthier balance between the two forms of dialogue. Today, video conferencing and apps like Skype have opened healthier communication amongst offices and teams. In the office, some now embrace the tried and true method while keeping emails casual and informative.

When Are Text and Email Acceptable?

Text and email are excellent forms of conveying messages, to a point. Sure, it’s easy to say that in hindsight, but in the moment, determining what message belongs on what platform can be much more difficult. If you want to reach the team in unison and/or are away from the office, text-based communication seems efficient and practical. Your points can hit all parties in a split second. But it has drawbacks.

Before you send that memo, think about how it sounds outside of your head. You’re accustomed to your tone, voice and understand what you were trying to get across.

Your recipients may not feel the same.That’s because even if they are familiar with your voice and tone, they may misunderstand your intention, or it wasn’t clearly conveyed.

If you’re reminding the team about a casual staff meet-and-greet session, send an email! But, if your point contains serious issues or complex details, consider holding off until you can rally the team in a more human-facing scenario. In person, is always number one for serious, controversial or strategic discussions. If you can’t accomplish that aim for the video conference where people can read each other’s expressions.  Worst case, use the phone.  It lacks the visual but does help carry the tone.  If your message is dire and has to go out immediately, try to loop in a colleague you can have a quick talk with so they can get the word out on your behalf. It may take a bit more time, but a clear message can prove much more beneficial than an uncertain point that confuses your team after reading.

A text doesn’t always paint the complete picture, even with a perfectly sculpted email. Human error on both sides are bound to arise, and it only takes one slip-up to cause a misreading. At times, you might have to use text and email to resolve matters, but keep those as a secondary option to avoid potential headaches going forward. Loop back around if your message was originally in written form, to clarify any potential misunderstandings so they do not brew.

Written communication is important under certain circumstances in the office culture.  After a meeting or discussion, writing what was agreed upon and next steps is a great way for everyone to understand that they are on the same page.  Details about visits with customers and suppliers should be tracked in written form.  All agreements and contracts should be put in writing.  A good rule of thumb: documentation should be written, communication should be face-to-face or verbal.

In today’s current landscape it makes perfect sense to text, but don’t forget how impactful your words and tone are. From the highest of highs to the pits of frustration, your voice and facial expressions carry the clearest message you want your teammates to hear. Email and text certainly have their niches in the workplace, but if you use these sources as your primary option, it’s time to revise before it makes your clear messages hazy.