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Stop Texting About Money

"Texting, Tweeting, or emailing is a brilliant way to miscommunicate how you feel; and misinterpret what other people mean."

-Stanley Bahrman


You've been there before. You send a message to someone, then you wait. They finally reply two hours later, totally missing your point. Now you respond trying to remake your point, but also responding to your interpretation of what the other person said. Pretty soon there are three or four subconversations happening on top you correcting yourselves and you can't see a way out of this. You decide it's easier to have a phone conversation to clear things up.

You may also have had a small conversation about money - perhaps the credit card bill came. Then before you know it - and you have no idea how you got there - but you are in a shouting match with your partner. It seems that small money conversation was like an electric fence you didn't know was electric*.

Imagine if you will what would happen if you combine these two situations. You attempt to have a conversation about money over text (or email or any other text-based app). Things can - and usually do - get out of control in a hurry. Everything gets miscommunicated. Nobody understands what anyone is trying to say. Everyone has different values and nobody knows how to articulate that in a message.

It's best to save conversations about money for times you can actually talk in-person (I include Skype, FaceTime, and other video call methods in the definition of "in-person").

*This quote is from Carl Richards.

Don't text or email about money

Conversations: Your Words

Texting, and it's cousins emailing, messaging, commenting on social media, writing letters (does anyone remember what that means?), contain the words you are trying to communicate.

Admittedly, using the wrong words can get you in trouble if the reader knows better (I'm talking to you, people who say "less" when you should say "fewer"). Unfortunately, there's no credit for using the perfect words. The actual words you use make up only about 7% of the meaning you are trying to convey.

When you communicate with email, text, and other messaging apps, less than a tenth of your message is being sent. That leaves a lot of room for your message to be misinterpreted.

words make up a small percentage of our message

Conversations: Your Voice Tones

What else is there, if your words don't matter very much? The next layer is your voice tones. Voice tones, including the actual tone of your voice, your pace, and your volume, make up 38% of your message. Think about that. That means that you can say the wrong words with the right tone and get your message across better than sending an electronic message.

Because sarcasm, jokes, and other tones don't show up in text-based messages, emoticons started showing up on the scene. :-)

While this helps, you still have to hope the reader interprets your use of emoticon properly. And even if it works perfectly, your words and your tone (via emoticon - or emojis now), still make up less than half of your intended message. The phone works better for picking up on voice tones, but even then it's only 45% of your message.

our voice provides more context that our words

Conversations: Physiology

Most of your intended message is delivered via your physiology. This includes your body language, what your eyes are doing, your facial expressions, and so on. Body language is the number one contributor to the intent behind your message, and you can't convey it through email or text.

You might be skeptical about this claim, and if so I have an experiment for you to try. Deliver good news to someone and do so with positive voice tones. But deliver your message with an angry face, your arms crossed, leaning away from your listener, looking at the floor, and shake your head "no" while you talk.

If you do this experiment, please report back to me how it went. :-o

body language is how we communicate


Having only 7% of your message being conveyed is why it's easy to have misunderstandings. Maybe you've heard this joke or some variation of it: "Don't call me with something you can put in a text." I don't have any data on this, but this article seems representative of our culture now.

That's unfortunate because we're becoming more and more addicted to our smartphones, more and more polarized, and less connected. The more we try to communicate with text-based methods the more likely we are to misunderstand one another.

conversing via messeging and email leads to misunderstandings

Getting Your Message Across

It's a complicated art form to get our actual intended message out the way we want. It starts with having a thought. Then you have to take that thought and be able to properly articulate it. That's not always easy to do. Then we have to choose the right words - also not easy to do. Then others need to hear our words and decipher the meaning so they can understand what we wanted to say. That's a lot of layers of potential misunderstanding. The success rate for me to successfully have you understand what I think is quite low.

I saw an image similar to this one at an Exquisite Listening workshop, emphasizing the importance of proper listening to help the communication process.

it's hard to articulate our views about money

Why Words Alone Don't Cut It

Author Ted Klontz once used a great example to demonstrate how and why words aren't enough. Imagine we had a disagreement after going to a party, and I sent you the following text:

"I'm not suggesting you ignored me."

How would you take that? This is a fascinating sentence because, depending on what word you emphasize, it can take on six different meanings.

emphasis matters

Bringing It All Together

Money is a topic that is already difficult to talk about. Don't make it more difficult by making it easy for your message to be misunderstood. There's a growing trend toward using messaging apps instead of talking in person, or even talking on the phone.

words are less important than voice tones and body language

Try to have your important conversations about money in person and you'll have fewer misunderstandings. Remember not to ambush anyone. Seek to understand instead of judge, and you'll be less likely to cause or experience emotional flooding. Finally, remember that we all have money baggage. Money is stressful, but you don't have to add fuel to the fire.

You only have one life. Live intentionally.

organize your financial mess

Read Next:


Wikipedia: Emoticon

Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.


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© 2020 Money Health Solutions, LLC



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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