Why psychology says you shouldn’t send long texts.
I admit to having sent some pretty wordy texts in my time. Upgrading from a Nokia to an iPhone as I entered college, I switched from “G2G” to lengthy conversations via text, trading in phone calls for socially-anxious-safe texting.
Nowadays, you couldn’t catch me dead writing more than five words in a text, and it’s saved me from many situations. I’ve learnt my lesson. So if you’re one to text out essays, don’t. Here’s why.
People Don’t Like Reading
It’s sad to hear for us writers, but the reality is — people don’t like reading. A quarter of American adults haven’t read a book in the past year. But with a masters degree in science, I can tell you that most self-reporting data is positively skewed, so it’s likely a lot more than a quarter. Regardless, in a digital era, reading long blocks of text is becoming less appealing. That’s partially why search-engine optimization (SEO) best practice is short chunks of text, bullet points and concise language.
So with that understood, it’s safe to say sending a long text isn’t a well-received way to get your point across.
It Can Get Misconstrued
People with anxiety or depression tend to catastrophize. This is known in psychology as having a negativity bias — assuming the worst case scenario, in every scenario. If someone tells you they are busy, it may be interpreted as “they don’t want to hang out with me because I’m a loser”.
Unfortunately, when we send texts, a lot of the context is lost, and you are opening up the window for negativity bias to skew the intended meaning. It’s estimated that 93 percent of communication is non-verbal, facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, body language, eye contact, touch, appearance, relative closeness, and artifacts; which include the way you dress, the things you own and how you smell, for example.
Even if you switched your text to a call, the person at the receiving end will get a better picture of your intention. Sending “we need to talk” over text can sound morbid, but over a phone call it may come across more like “we need to talk more, I miss you!” just by adding in a certain inflection of voice.
The more text is sent = the more opportunity for it to be misconstrued. As a generalization, people often send longer texts during more serious conversations. In my own experience, the only times long texts have happened is when I’m trying to explain how I feel (a true recipe for disaster).
The Danger of Over-Explaining
Psychologists believe that over-explaining is a trauma response. You’ve probably heard of the fight, flight or freeze responses to trauma, but one lesser known response is fawn. Fawn refers to people pleasing and over-explaining. You are trying to diffuse conflict and make yourself less than, to present yourself as a ‘non-threat’.
How many times have you sent a long text explaining your reasons for saying no? Or your reasons for saying yes? Or your reasons for feeling a certain way? Brevity in texting is a power move. You don’t need to over-explain the way you feel or the reasons for saying yes or no. When you overcome your trauma response, you are able to live by your values. When you are value-driven and self-assured, you don’t feel the need to explain away every act or decision.
When you over-explain in a long text, you are also opening yourself up to subconscious interpretation. You are presenting yourself as a ‘non-threat’ which unfortunately can make you look weak, needy or desperate. While these things aren’t inherently bad, they can deeply affect your self-esteem and worthiness in a relationship (social or intimate).
That doesn’t mean that you should never express how you feel, but a text isn’t the right platform for it. Opt to meet in person to have a free flowing conversation — like you are playing a game of tennis. Sending a long text is like serving 100 tennis balls into someone’s court and expecting them to still want to play.
Instead of the texting essay, go for “can we meet for coffee later?”. It makes you come across as assured and confident. Plus, when you do make your point, it will be better received.
We already touched on negativity bias but it’s a big one. Your own thoughts and feelings about a situation influence how you interpret events. For example, if you are terrified that your boyfriend will cheat on you, you may act like they already have. If you have an avoidant attachment style, you may push your boyfriend away; act coldly towards them or even end up cheating on them.
Your negativity bias and subconscious fears manifested into reality. Over text, there’s greater room for misinterpretation and negativity bias can sneak in, completely distorting what the words actually say.
Continuing with the above example, if you believe your boyfriend is going to cheat on you and he texts saying “I’m going out with my friends now, I’ll text you when I get home.” You may interpret that as him wanting to cut conversation because he’s going to cheat on you. Your negativity bias awakens your deepest fears and you start acting like it’s already happened. You start preparing a long text.
If you have a tendency towards negativity bias, never, ever, text. I am guilty of this, and it has been my biggest texting downfall. I’m prone to misinterpreting texts, so I avoid texting altogether.
Think of Your Audience
Research has supported the fact that women and men have different communication strategies. According to experts, men are statistically less fond of texting, while women tend to value words, so may be more likely to appreciate a longer text.
As stated in the aforementioned research, men are more likely to view communication as a means to exchange information, while women view communication as a tool to connect with others in their sphere. This was supported in a study conducted by Sheffield Hallam University, which found that men send short texts, most commonly with one to three words, while women send longer texts with more than one topic combined in one text.
In general, I’d avoid ever sending a long text for the reasons stated above. But if you are going to, pick your audience. If you’re sending a long text to a man, it may not be well-received. In fact, according to a cross-sectional study, texting can create anxiety in social relationships, due to the pressure of forced communication. Another study attributed texting to the demise of relationships, particularly amongst young adults.
Of course, these are gender-based generalizations which may not ring true. But it can be helpful to be aware of and respect different communication preferences, for the sake of facilitating healthy and effective communication. If you know someone doesn’t like texting, respect it; and don’t be afraid to ask them!
Etched in Reality, Forever
Sounds pretty morbid, but if you’ve heard of the Gen-Z term ‘receipts’ you’ll know where I’m going with this. If you send a long, heartfelt, over-explaining text about how you feel and why; that vulnerable moment — that is open to misinterpretation — is going to be etched in reality, forever. Plus, you may have sent it in a moment of weakness, and later, with a clear mind, regretted it. But that person still has that message, it still contributes to their opinion of you.
Maybe you don’t care about what people think, and you’d rather live in your truth. For that, I say congratulations. But to me, when I consider the other factors like negativity bias, the inability to portray essential non-verbal factors in your delivery, and the likelihood of it being misconstrued; I’d rather wait to talk in person.
Next time you write out a long text, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this necessary?
- Have I over-explained my point?
- Can I have this conversation better in person?
- Who is my audience?
Finally, before sending, press backspace until the text has cleared, and call them instead.
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