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I bet you’re wondering what Q4 is like, academically speaking. Yes, I’m still going to classes and yes, I still study. No more Learning Team, though. (Sad not to see my teammates, delighted to have my evenings luxuriously free). We now have 2 required courses, Leading Organizations and Ethics, and 3 electives.

So, I’m taking an elective called Interpersonal Communications. What? I’m a person, and in the past I’ve been mostly petted and appreciated for my communications skills. And sometimes even commandeered to solve communications issues (or just rewrite horrid copy). I didn’t know what to expect from this class, but darn it, I can communicate. Sure, I may lack finesse at times, but I can effectively get my point across. Right? Nope. As with most experiences here, I’ve been taken down a notch – or six. Suddenly I feel like Mr. Ed, with a mouth full of peanut butter and two less feet to stomp. Since I’ve been here, the bulk of my communication has shifted from meetings and phone calls to texts and instant messaging. I’m not sure how I feel about this. My dear friend G feels pocketbook pain about it, as the hundreds of text messages we routinely exchange produced a particularly hefty cell phone bill last month. Oops.

So what do all these dashed-off one-liners mean? For (somewhat filterless) me, it’s danger writ large. Want to know what I really think? Ask me on instant messaging or via text. My poor internal editor. She’s the cautious sort you’d find doing things like checking the air pressure in one’s tires before a road trip or ensuring extra band aids are on hand “just in case”. She battles bravely but routinely loses to the impulsive turn of phrase galloping from brain to fingers to screen. As a holdover from my corporate days, though, I do always put an asterisk * in place of the vowel when questionable w*rds are required. A lady’s got to have standards, you know. Despite that, nothing says immediate gratification to a fast typer like instant messaging. Deliciously hedonistic wordplay. Trouble is, it may come out zingy, clever, acerbic, slightly off-color, playful, double entendre, or downright flirty. And worse, I may really mean it in any or all of those ways. I suspect I’m not alone. And I also suspect that people who take too long to reply in instant messaging are doing a little too much internal editing.

And then there’s the “Big Hat, No Cattle” phenomenon. A former boss from Texas would use that phrase when someone was all talk, no action. Instant messaging chat is fairly conducive to Big Hat – after all, you may not see your chat-buddy in person for days or weeks or months. So why not be flamboyantly flattering, deceptively demure or outrageously over-the-top?  And that’s when messaging or text becomes less or more authentic, depending on your perspective. More authentic, because shy folk may truly feel more comfortable expressing themselves in chat windows, and it’s a little peek into their brain. Less authentic, because bold folk may delve into the theatrical, and it’s a big peek into their imagination. Either way, if you’re like me, some chats are a delightful chance to connect, or a warm “thinking-about-you-just-saying-hi” – and others a reluctant read-and-respond chore.

So the sheer volume of interpersonal communications has gone up with messaging and text. Has the meaning been lost? Does the modern workplace lose or benefit from waves of thousands of electronic words crashing through servers at top speed? Perhaps the better question is – if it’s here to stay, professionally and personally, what’s the best way to understand and use it properly?  For me, I think I’ll try to do a tad more telephoning, and a bit less messaging. At least, until the next chat window pops up….

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