What would you say if you could only type?

When walking around the streets of Sydney and riding public transport, it is hard not to notice the number of people deeply in 'conversation' through the use of their thumbs

Research suggests that written language isn't dependent on spoken language

Research suggests that written language isn't dependent on spoken language

When walking around the streets of Sydney and riding public transport, it is hard not to be conscious of the number of people clearly, deeply in 'conversation' through the use of their thumbs.

Researchi out of John Hopkins University has found our ability to write and speak are supported by entirely different parts of the brain. This means, for example, a stroke victim may not be able to speak a grammatically correct sentence, and yet may be able to write it - and vice versa.

The research suggests that written language isn't dependent on spoken language. If it was, you would expect to see similar patterns or errors across both an individual's written and spoken language. But as most of us know, that's not the case, thankfully. As a father of two teenagers I don't think I could put up with 'like' and 'you know' appearing throughout their SMS messages as it does in their oral conversation!

This led me to recall a conversation over lunch I had with a good friend of mine and fabulous hoax speaker and corporate imposter, Rodney Marks.

As is always the way with Rodney, he got me thinking – with a smile of course.

What would you say if you had to converse through typing?

Rodney Marks

Rodney Marks

Hoax speaker and corporate imposter

The way you type influences the way you speak

The way you type influences the way you 'speak'

Now whether you are a touch typist, a two-index finger puncher, rapid 'thumber' or somewhere in-between it's going to change the way you 'speak'. As the research shows when we write we use a different part of the brain to that when we speak. This also presumably means that the way we absorb and comprehend messages will be different and importantly the language we choose to use will also be different.

In our book, The Art of Conversation, we propose and explore a model for truly engaged and engaging verbal conversations around think, say, do ... inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's quote:

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi

Lawyer, politician, social activist, and writer

Applying a model for engaging verbal conversations to written conversations

Essentially that to be 'on conversation' requires alignment between all three - think, say and do. Two out of three and you run the risk of being either; a 'teller', a 'confuser', or an 'observer'.

If you are strong in the say and do modes you may naturally be a 'teller'. More time in think and do modes, not a lot of saying? You may spend a fair amount of time observing during conversations. Whilst those that don't align what they do with what they say and think are likely to confuse.

The book The Art of Conversation goes into a lot more detail, essentially it is about conscious awareness around:


Choose the words you use and be conscious of the power of how you say them.


Be genuine, interested and present.


Engage by actively listening and showing you are actively listening.

That is all well and good, but how might we apply these same three tips to our written conversations?

Bottom line, the written word is going to require even more discipline around these three. Given the loss of body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice there is every chance that we are mis-understood when writing.

In a 1996 studyii, psychologists Justin Kruger and Nicholas Epley identified that people overestimate their ability to convey their intended tone – be it sarcastic, serious, or funny. They found that people also overestimate their ability to correctly interpret the tone of messages that others send them. No wonder texting, email, Snapchat, Facebook et al can lead to difficult 'conversations'.

"Of course, there's nothing new about text-based communication; people have been writing letters for centuries," Kruger and Epley explain. "But what's different in this medium is … the ease with which we can fire things back and forth. It makes text-based communication seem more informal and more like face-to-face communication than it really is."

Food for thought

Food for thought

Could we still choose to say nasty things to people that all too often slip off the tongue or would they get sanitized when we are typing? Might we choose not to waste time swearing, or maybe we would simply swear with more style.

Could typing enable us to be clearer in what we are trying to say, be more positive, maybe even more assertive and less passive? Or like Mark Twain who famously said "If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter" would we struggle to find the time to be truly succinct and struggle to get our point across?

Might we rekindle the joy of the language we have available to us or would we simply dumb it down to keep it quick and simple - twitter anyone? What adjectives would we use to express our feelings that can so easily be heard though our tonality? Or would you pepper your typing with emojis? What does that smiley face with the sunglasses on mean anyhow!

I don't know what it might mean for you but certainly just thinking about it raises our consciousness in conversation, both spoken and written. The more consciously present we are then the more effective we will be in connecting and building relationships.

Remember, success is just a conversation. How might you change yours today?


What we write may not be what we say
Rapp, Fischer-Baum, Miozzo


Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
1996, Vol.89, No 5, pp.225-36


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