Thumb Wars, Part 2: Messaging is Terrible for Arguments

text messaging; online messaging; arguments

Texting, online messaging, and other similar forms of communication have grown exponentially in recent years. While messaging apps and text messages may bring some people closer together and lead to more frequent communication, they are devoid of communication clues, such as verbal inflections, body language and tone of voice, that help give context to our statements. This kind of communication is one-dimensional and rigid. Misunderstandings and miscommunication are far more likely to occur than in face-to-face or phone conversations. This article discusses the growth of conflict with the rise in messaging as a major form of communication.

Text Message Explosion

In a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, 72% of American adults owned smartphones. Of those surveyed in the study, 42% of smartphone users utilized a general messaging app to send or receive messages. In April of 2017, Facebook’s Messenger app surpassed 1.2 billion monthly users worldwide. That is a phenomenal amount of typed or texted messages whirling around cyberspace. In addition, according to The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, text message users send and receive 41.5 messages per day on average, with 18- to 24-year-olds at a much higher average of 109.5 messages per day – that’s 3,200 texts per month! Roughly 31% of participants in Pew’s survey prefer to communicate via text rather than to be called on the phone. This medium has become a staple of everyday communication, and it is only natural that conflict and disagreements would creep into the texting world.

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Workplace Conflicts: Watch Your Tone of Voice

Lots of interesting questions were posed by the reporter who interviewed me recently.  The likelihood is that others share these questions.   I will feature many of these questions in my posts over the coming weeks.  If you have questions about conflict resolution, mediation or negotiation,  please post in the comments section of the blog and I’ll respond.

What are the most common conflicts or disputes that arise in today’s workplace?  The most common subjects of workplace disputes center around issues about performance, work assignments, promotion and compensation.  Based on my experience as a workplace mediator the dispute, at its core often concerns  issues about dignity and respect, whether it is a charge of workplace discrimination under the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) statutes or another workplace complaint.   If parties could easily talk about these subjects openly and honestly they would not need a mediator.  But these workplace conflicts come to mediation because there is a misunderstanding due to some failure of communication.

While we focus a good bit of intellectual energy on the content of our communication, the reality is that only 7% of our communication is based on our words.   Ninety-three percent is body language and non-verbal communication.   In my experience the root of many of the communication problems in workplace disputes lies with issues about tone of voice that is perceived by one party as derogatory and insulting.  Whether you’re a supervisor giving directions to an employee or a team member responding to a colleague,  are you conscious of “how” you deliver the message?

Another factor complicating communication is today’s  multi-generational work force.  It is common for a supervisor to give an assignment to an older subordinate.    Each generation has different communication preferences and obstacles.   An astute supervisor needs to be cognizant of these differences when communicating with his or her team.  Likewise, a smart employee should be aware of how best to communicate with management.

Conflict is a naturally occurring phenomenon.  Good conflict management is about good, straight forward and honest communication.

Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.

Communication Options in Conflict

It’s been a busy summer in our business. We’ve developed some new and exciting programs which are featured on our website and have won several contracts for training this fall.

Hope you’ve had some sunshine and fun this summer.


When you are faced with a conflict how do you typically respond? Do you always respond in the same way? According to Ruth Abigail and Dudley Cahn in Managing Conflict Through Communication (MA Pearson Education, 2011) there are three general categories of conflict communication responses: other-centered, self-centered or relationship-centered. Each of these possible responses has its own set outcomes, typical behaviors and messages. This article will explore the characteristics of each type of communication option. [Read more…]