Someone, somehow, worked out that our communications consist of 7% words, 38% voice or tone and 55% non-verbal or body language.
I am not sure how they did this to such accuracy but I will go with their figures for the moment.
What prompted this post was a post by about a group called Befrienders in Malaysia. From the way she describes them they are similar to LifeLine in Australia or the Samaritans in Britain. I was surprised when she said that you could email them if you had a problem.
The above figures would suggest that you only get 7% of their message in an email. (The blue wedge, above.)
No tone of voice, no body language.
Phone counselling is tricky enough at times, working with 45% of the content but 7% is not much to get any idea as to what is going on in the person's mind. Are they suicidal? Are they calm? Are they crying? Are they panicky? Is there mood improving? How do you engage with someone with email? You are getting 7% of their message and then they, distressed and anxious, are getting 7% of your reply. The scope for misunderstanding and confusion is enormous.
(Having said that we did have a teletype option available until recently, but I have never taken a call on it and we only had a few regulars that used it to contact us.)
Part of the reason for the appearance of smileys in emails (and SMS messages) is to try to convey some of the emotions of the writer that are not conveyed by the hard reality of the words alone.
I guess my message is that if your issue is important, ring. If it is really important, visit.
If you want to run the risk of being misunderstood, email. Or SMS.