Can We Still Communicate?


How can I contact my daughter today? I write her a WhatsApp message because she hardly ever answers a telephone call anymore. And I probably am not the only person who has had this experience; it may be that the chat channel is another matter, but data communication has long since replaced voice communication to a large extent. Then I hear that the quality of our communication is declining and this reflects my everyday work life. The telephone hardly still rings at all, but we respond to e-mails and in diverse chats rooms. Thus, I can even assert that I can obtain information even faster these days – it just comes to me in different ways than before. Is this now better than in the past? Have we lost the quality in our communication or have we perhaps even become more efficient?



From my perspective, we cannot evaluate communication merely based upon its effectiveness. More than ever in our digital world, it will also be important how we can efficiently and successfully communicate and collaborate with all the media available to us. Let’s think about what has changed about communication over time. What is relevant in this regard? In order to analyse this, let’s take the 5 fundamental rules of the Master of Communication Paul Watzlawick who explains human communication and reveals its paradox:


You are not able not to Communicate

Body language and tonality must be rated much higher in communication than the spoken words themselves. Thus, it is more important how one says something than what is actually said. However, digital media can communicate emotions only in a very limited scope; emojis try to provide help in this regard, but the lack of emotionality and tonality can compensate for this only in a very limited way. Thus, with regards to this axiom, digital communication generates a high degree of risk that the content will ultimately be misunderstood.


Every communication has a content and relationship aspect such that the latter classifies the former and is therefore a meta-communication.

The content aspect receives the task of conveying information. The relationship aspect provides insights regarding how the relationship is being perceived by the recipient. With regards to the transfer to the communication situation, it can be said that there is no purely informational communication. Thus, it is very much a matter of how well I know my counterpart. If I have had a long, stable relationship with the sender of the communication, then I will also be able to integrate this into the digital communication. However, precisely this relationship level can also impede us from objectively perceiving what has been said.


The nature of a relationship is dependent on the punctuation of the partners' communication procedures.

Precisely with regards to leadership, this is a very important realisation: The behaviour of my counterpart is influenced by my type of communication. Digital communication oftentimes increases the quantity of the interactions (but unfortunately not necessarily the quality) and this can also cause stress which triggers a response in the interaction. Thus, we should probably ponder what we communicate when and to whom because oftentimes less would definitely be more.


Human communication involves both digital and analogic modalities.

Digital communication has a complex and logical syntax, but is lacking in semantics with regards to relationships. Analog communication has such a semantic potential for relationships, but lacks a syntax which could provide a clear definition of the nature of relationships. This axiom shows us more than all others that there should be no “either or” in communication – rather, there should be an “as well as also”. Digital communication enriches analogue communication – it is only without it that an essential component is missing from it.


Inter-human communication procedures are either symmetric or complementary, depending on whether the relationship of the partners is based on differences or parity.

In complementary relationships, various behavioural patterns complement each other and determine the interactive process. A symmetric relationship form is characterised by minimising disparities between them. However, communication in digital media is oftentimes characterised by a very short communication chain. In complementary relationships, this does not have to constitute a problem because it is only a matter of reinforcing the opinion of another person. In my belief, digital media do not constitute a good way to solve a problem. In order to do this, a direct conversation is always required. 



Thus, in my opinion, the quality of communication has not become worse through the new media. It is a matter of how we use them. Digital communication forms cannot replace analogue communication forms, but they can support them. We must learn how we can work with the existing resources, but we must also devote a lot of time to once again speaking directly with each other. Communication indeed always also means to "feel" the other person – the digital media cannot offer this to us.

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