“I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.” – Ben Franklin

Interactions with your Airmen who might be more prone to text you rather than call you or stop you in the hallway to have a conversation make interpreting written messages complicated.  The new generation of Airmen serving today are more comfortable with a fire-and-forget communication medium that allows them to multi-task.

We are bombarded by information from a variety of mediums; the internet via social media and news sites, television, and radio.  The key in today’s world is realizing that these mediums become platforms—especially social media.  People can voice an opinion, show support for a cause, reach out to a network of friends, broadcast a live feed, and ‘make viral’ things we believe are funny, sad, controversial, interesting, or thought-provoking.  Our First Amendment rights are more powerful than ever.  Applying critical thinking to the many aspects of a communication or message is more important now than ever.

Think of communication as an exchange of a message from a sender to a receiver.  First, the sender has to take what he/she wants to convey, translate it into a message, and send it to the receiver.  The receiver gets the message and deciphers it.

Here’s the thing; we all have a variety of preconceived notions that govern how we view the world or how we interpret things.  We gain these through experience, education by our parents, family, or siblings.  The same message is deciphered in different ways by different receivers based on how each of them interpret it.

As a ‘peruser’ of information or messages, one must understand that there are a plethora of fallacies that you can find yourself falling victim to.  The key is knowing what intent is behind a communication and knowing that everyone has an unintended bias when gathering and interpreting information.  Consider the tone of the message, who is saying it, what their views might be based on that information.  Understand your own biases when evaluating information and question the information.

We can also misinterpret phrases and meaning because a certain level of interpersonal ‘flavoring’ is absent in written communication.  Called ‘paralanguage’, it is the meaning behind words often expressed in our verbal and nonverbal characteristics.  Reading a text message doesn’t have the same effect a conversation does—sarcasm and humor can be lost.  Even emoticons do not fully convey the intended meaning behind words.

Critical message here; don’t think that your Airman sent you a snarky text or email and get hasty with your response just because you read it that way.  If you genuinely believe it to be an issue, clarify.  Rank can often blind people to a subordinate’s intended message just because of their notion of those junior in grade or because the subordinate is the member of a younger generation.  Don’t let such things drag communication with your subordinates down–you’ll be a more effective leader for it!


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