Lack of empathy in our digital world...

Services for Real Estate Pros with John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. 13013

I don't know where to start.

This morning as I was doing my part to mass immunize-- (outdoor breakfast with friends in Winter Park) we were discussing how texting was a difficult medium in which to communicate accurately and effectively.

Then this blockbuster statement was made: 90% of all communication is non-verbal.

I was floored.  I was trying to remember if I had heard that statement before...

And then everything became very clear to me.

Before I get to a conclusion, let me quote the findings from a study on which that statement was made.

Professor Mehrabian combined the statistical results of the two studies and came up with the now famous—and famously misused—rule that communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal. The non-verbal component was made up of body language (55 percent) and tone of voice (38 percent). They assigned only 7 percent of their credibility assessment to the salesperson's actual words.  (my italics)

This 1967 study has been more or less debunked, as obviously the content of our speech is lasting and more important than inflections, etc.  However, there is something very very important that has been edited out of our day to day living that may be hurting our business, society, social and individual welfare.

A huge storm of pondering started swirling in my head.

How about this: all the greatest literature was written by hand.  Not on a typewriter, not on a computer

All the greatest buildings on the planet, before the mid-80s, were created by hand on paper, not with computers.

All the greatest music composed to date (ha) was written by quill on paper, not on a computer.

Which brings us to effective communications...

I actually LOVE someone who calls me on the phone.  Why?  I can hear their inflections measure their pauses, I can SEE them smiling, I can sense hesitation.  Their tone indicates whether they are busy, happy or whether there is a problem.  Their haste conveys their interest in the conversation.  Is this a perfunctory chat or is it something more meaningful?  You can tell if someone is lying or telling the truth.  You can sense anxiety.

Before the telephone, there were newspapers and in order to conduct any business at all, if you wanted to communicate emotion or facts you either wrote letters by hand or had a face to face conversation.

As human beings, we have been genetically coded to operate face to face.  This is a 3,000-year-old tradition.  We can see, smell and listen, even feel that person in front of us.  We notice if they are limping or standing tall.  We can see if they are well kept or not.  They can be passive or wildly gesticulating.  They can be loud or quiet.  (an exclamation mark can mean many things on paper)  Their eyes speak volumes.  They can bat their eyelids incessantly or stay languid.  They can make furtive glances.  They can beam with happiness or tear with sadness.  Their mouth indicates wonder, satisfaction, interest, outrage.  They make gestures with their hands, their head, their entire torso in fact.  And if they are panicked they will perspire, they will emit odors.  Or they may be perfectly calm and still in their demeanor.   How do you figure any of this via text?  And yet this is where we are basing our futures, our loves, our business dealings, our dreams, and hopes?  A digital shorthand that we just want to get over with.

This entire evolutionary process has been completely cut off with an over-reliance on digital communication, starting with telephones in fact which led us to imagine what that person on the other end truly was thinking and saying.

Because of this short stop type of communication, we are missing huge swaths of truth and intent; subversion is easier.

Did you know texting was a machine-based program that accidentally made it to cell phones?  

If you text more than email, more than talk on the phone, more than converse face to face, then you may be giving others the wrong impression and you may be also receiving abbreviated content.  
At one time I conceded that this was a good idea.  For those whom you didn't wish to spend more than a minute to send a message, texting was good.

Now we are using this most basic and condensed form of communication to work up deals, assure clients, follow up with information, even ask for payment, make demands, etc.

I don't think email is much better.  It does allow you to think more about what you write and edit your meaning before sending.  How often have you wished in either medium you hadn't clicked the send button?  How many illegible or grammatically incorrect messages have been beaten out?  Apologies?

Emojis: You realize that these HAD to be introduced in order for people to convey the approximate emotion in the content of their shorthand, in order to reduce potential unintended messaging.  There are now thousands of emojis for text and email.

We have subterfuged our humanity in favor of quick clicking on an inanimate gadget in order to get a basic point across.  No more, no less.

Can you sense or convey ANY measure of empathy while your fingers do the walking?

And right now we are clawing away at each other using digital means to flatten the competitive curve...


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Leanne Smith
Dirt Road Real Estate - Golden Valley, AZ
Relocation to NW AZ with elbow room & more freedom

Wow, super great post. Even though Mehrabin's work has been challenged, I believe there is still much validity in his efforts.  Being in inside sales for over 20 years, I learned how to listen for those nuances called paraverbal.

Another study mentioned in the book "Breakthrough Networking," suggested within 15 seconds of physically meeting someone we have subconciously to consciously made 10 judgements including ethnicity, income, social status and education.

May 15, 2020 06:50 AM #8
Sam Shueh
(408) 425-1601 - San Jose, CA
mba, cdpe, reopro, pe

It is fairly common family or friends in the immediate area text each other all day. Least suprised good for social distancing.

May 15, 2020 07:19 AM #9
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hello Sam, no doubt texting and email has kept us in touch during this stay at home period.  Do you think making a phone call or two might even be better? Thanks, Sam Shueh 

Hello Leanne Smith   Excellent supporting argument here.  That 15 seconds is something that we have been coded to absorb subconsciously.  From shoes to haircut.  Amazing, isn't it?  And I think those who were able to zero in like this were able to negotiate the pants off the other guy!  Which is why I think zero face to face negotiations helps or hurts one side or the other.

Hi Kat, that is probably a very good idea to send a video in your texts.  It means that we must look photogenic though which is why we default behind text, email, and phone calls.  Thanks! Kat Palmiotti 

Hello Michael J. Perry   YES.  You are correct: we fill in previously known mannerisms and inflections when we text those whom we have met and conversed face to face.   Very interesting observation!!

Hi Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573   Thanks for writing a great series of ideas that are possible in a digital world, especially during a stay at home situation.  Obviously face to face under these circumstances are tricky but not impossible.  I think we have all been tele working and some situations require as much exposition as we can forward through email at least.  Web sites are not down and a lot still is gained from your messaging online.


May 15, 2020 09:15 AM #10
Nick Vandekar, 610-203-4543
Long & Foster Real Estate Inc 610-225-7400 - Devon, PA
Tredyffrin Easttown Realtor, Philly Main Line

With masks on it is harder to read people as most of their face is covered as well. At least with video calls you can get to see someoene and read their expressions etc. Great post. 

May 15, 2020 09:20 AM #11
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hello James Dray   We miss SO much without gauging body language and facial expression in a digital world.  I often cannot figure out what my clients are thinking long distance or in the middle of a negotiation or discussion.  I think we are habitually using text and email rather than at least make a call where you can get a clearer 'read' on what someone's intentions might be.  Thank you

Hi Michael Jacobs   Just think of how much can be misinterpreted online, but you see this in deceptive advertising throughout the ages... in any medium!!  Thanks, sir!

Hello Ron and Alexandra Seigel   I agree that we should try to connect and reconnect with some kind of human touch: face to face, voice to voice at the minimum.  I think people like to see and hear with whom they are communicating.  I am not sure any video can do that or even face time, although those things do bridge big gaps.  Thank you, A!

Hello Brian England   I don't think the education system has emphasized the importance of accurate written communications.  Thank you!

May 15, 2020 11:45 AM #12
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hi Nick Vandekar, 610-203-4543   Good point.  Masks aren't making things any easier.  Masks obscure all but the eyes.  I think hearing someone and not seeing their mouth but seeing their eyes too is better than video, which is somewhat of a Hollywood affair.  Thanks

May 15, 2020 11:55 AM #13
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

Hi John:

As always, you've shared a thoughtful and insightful post that really makes you think about communication in all its various formats these days. No doubt we have all experienced miscommunication or have misunderstood what someone has said, texted or emailed, especially when emotions interfere.

And now with wearing masks our face-to-face communication is likely not as clearly understood, coupled with the lack of facial expression.


May 15, 2020 03:51 PM #14
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
Your real estate writer

I agree that face to face is best, but since most of the people I communicate are miles and miles away from me, I don't get to choose that option most of the time. Second best is the phone, and I do love it when people call.

Well - depending upon who calls and whether they want to converse or whine to someone.

I just talked with my son for nearly an hour tonight - I love that!

May 15, 2020 09:30 PM #15
Lyn Sims
RE/MAX Suburban - Schaumburg, IL
Schaumburg Real Estate

Nothing is going to change, it's already happened & over with. How can we convey ourselves better with the use of techno devices?

If I remember correctly from my reading, Alexander Graham Bell was going to cause the end of all mankind with the telephone itself.

May 16, 2020 06:51 AM #16
Dorie Dillard CRS GRI ABR
Coldwell Banker Realty ~ 512.750.6899 - Austin, TX
Serving Buyers & Sellers in NW Austin Real Estate

Good morning John Henry, Florida Architect ,

Glad to see your post featured! Face to face communication is the best..we are humans and are bodies react to others personality and how they react. Jeff Dowler, CRS brought up what I was thinking. Now that we have to wear masks the face to face isn't as good as it use to be but you can still tell a lot looking into someones eyes and watching their demeanor.

May 16, 2020 06:59 AM #17
Lise Howe
Keller Williams Capital Properties - Washington, DC
Assoc. Broker in DC, MD, VA and attorney in DC

I hand wrote  a note to a very difficult tenant last week and she said she couldn't read my writing and that I had to send her something by text or email. I suspect the issue really was with her - that she can't read cursive writing.  I love sending hand written notes - and no one has ever complained about my writing

May 17, 2020 04:15 AM #18
Steve Higgins
RE/MAX Kelowna - Kelowna, BC

Hi John,
Good post. I am guilty of spending far to much time texting with family and friends instead of picking up the phone and calling. I do prefer to see or speak to my clients as opposed to texting.

May 17, 2020 06:12 AM #19
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hello Steve Higgins   We are all guilty.  So easy to text, isn't it?  If possible, always better to meet clients in person.  Thanks!

Hi Lise Howe   So sad that people cannot read cursive!! Handwritten anything is really a great personal touch!  Thanks

Hello Dorie Dillard CRS GRI ABR  We DO relate to each other face to face best, as in the past 3-4,000 years!  It seems technology, while useful in many cases, has a way of supplanting the way humans interact with each other!  Yes, voice and eyes, and some body language -- behind the mask -- can work quite well.  I hope we don't have to keep masks on forever!  Thank you!

Hi Lyn Sims   Yes, the cat is out of the bag.  I think we now decide when a personal meeting is advantageous, and when not.  I will have to read about Bell!!  Thanks  

May 17, 2020 01:26 PM #20
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hello Marte Cliff   I think phone calls are wonderful and texting and email simply eliminate them, I think, in favor of more productivity!   Thank you!

Hi Jeff Dowler, CRS   Thanks for your compliment!  I agree that a face to face meeting is the best way to truly understand what someone has in mind, at face value but also implied.  You can shy away from them if you feel you will be intimidated or taken advantage of.  Or try to 'use' them to best negotiate for example.  But simply being in front of people is a learning experience in seeing how people respond to you as well as learning how to communicate effectively on any social level.  I see a generation of two that are losing these 'skills'.  Thanks

May 17, 2020 01:45 PM #21
Mary Hutchison, SRES, ABR
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate-Kansas City Homes - Kansas City, MO
Experienced Agent in Kansas City Metro area

That's how we can get 'a feeling' about a person after meeting them...the way they stand, make eye contact, engage in conversation, etc.  Not the same over text and email!

May 17, 2020 07:06 PM #22
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Yes, I agree, Mary Hutchison, SRES, ABR   I am working with a prospective client whom I have not met.  All through email.  And it really is tough to 'read' him.  Thanks

May 19, 2020 09:03 AM #23
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Good afternoon John Henry, Florida Architect - I am longing for that social contact again.  Lose a lot with masks.

May 20, 2020 10:56 AM #24
Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP
Selling Homes Changing Lives

John Henry, Florida Architect - I'm happy to see this one FEATURED! From beginning to end, it's perfect! Awhile back I referenced a book called "Growing Up Digital," The Rise of the Net Generation by Don Tapscott, author of the International Bestseller, The Digital Economy. It was published in 1998. You just reminded me to see if there are any new books written by him on this topic.

P.S. Out of the Mouth of Babes: I was on Zoom with my young Granddaughter recently. At one point, she sunk her head down and all I could see was her eyes. When I asked her what she was doing, she said, hiding. I don't like just seeing your eyes looking at me. Grandma, she said, "Why can't you come over and play with me?"  

May 20, 2020 04:05 PM #25
Joe Trusty
Norcal Web Designs - Sacramento, CA
Real Estate Website Development Expert

It's so easy to text that people often opt for it as an easier albeit less personal form of communication. I know that right now many folks are looking to limit their face to face interactions with everything going on with the health crisis. I think in the last 2 years that Video has done a great job at bringing some equilibrium to the balance of technology and communication. It's definitely more personal to get a video, they convert better, and you can convey body language and emotion better than with a text.

May 22, 2020 05:16 PM #26
John Henry, Florida Architect
John Henry Masterworks Design International, Inc. - Orlando, FL
Residential Architect, Luxury Custom Home Design

Hello Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP  omigosh, omigosh: your Granddaughter is indeed blessed with the insight of philosophers!!!  WHAT a statement!  You should write this up and send to all those 'parenting' blogs, etc.!!

This is indeed a problem that most of us do not recognize.  We are like the proverbial frogs in the pan.  We just get greased up with extra bits of digital candy and forget the reality of life!!!  Wonderful, and thank you for your comments!

Hi Grant Schneider   I think we can get a bit of that human contact back by sitting outdoors, at a safe distance, and shooting the breeze!!  Thanks

Hello Joe Trusty   The current pandemic has pushed more people into a digital trap than ever before.  We have to moderate technology and realize the benefits of face to face contact!  Thank you.

May 31, 2020 09:00 AM #27
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