In today’s digital age, it can be easy to avoid face-to-face interaction. As social media has become more and more popular in recent years, people can often find themselves having more and more interactions with friends online as opposed to in person. Job interviews can now be conducted through video chat platforms such as Skype, online classes are becoming more popular, and sometimes one can even find oneself working an entire job from online or making friends that are from far away thanks to the internet.

 

That being said, just because we may have computers and smartphones readily available to us, this does not necessarily mean that we should put face-to-face communication in the recycling bin. There are some cases in which it makes more sense—and will ultimately be more beneficial to you—to talk to someone in person as opposed to via email, text, or online chatting. To learn more about how to navigate interpersonal relationships with teachers, guidance counselors, potential recommenders or mentors, and more in the digital age, read on!

 

What are the advantages of digital communication?

 

There is no doubt that communicating digitally can offer a lot of benefits to everyone involved, and especially to those who are shy or experience anxiety when it comes to having high-stakes interactions in person. If the idea of asking your teacher a question in real life ties your stomach into knots and causes you to start sweating bullets, then it might be wise to take some pressure off of yourself by sending them an email.

 

Written online communication can also be helpful because you get the chance to think about what you are going to say and proofread it before you send it out into the world. When having a conversation in person with someone you might say something that you didn’t mean to say or even misspeak, while when communicating digitally there is less of a chance that your meaning will be skewed because you get the chance to actually edit and revise what you are meaning to say before the other person receives it.

 

Another benefit of online communication is that you can think in your writing about things like your tone and your vocabulary in a way that you wouldn’t get to during a face to face interaction happening in real time. If you’re someone who is particularly skilled with language, then having the chance to think about these elements of your communications with someone might offer you more control over how the interaction will progress. At the same time, as we will discuss later in this post, it is important to keep in mind that this doesn’t always mean that communicating via email or text will reduce the chance of having a miscommunication with someone.

 

What are the disadvantages of digital communication?

 

Obviously, while there are many upsides to communicating with people through email and other forms of nonverbal communication, there are also some downsides. To put it simply, email simply feels less personal than meeting with someone in person. As is mentioned above, miscommunications can sometimes happen as a result. When you are communicating via email, you can’t see the face of the other person (or people) that you are communicating with, so you might miss important body language cues or facial expressions that will clue you in to how your words and message are being received.

 

It is also easy to misinterpret tone in an email. If you’ve ever received a text from a friend that you falsely thought to be passive-aggressive because of something small—maybe the in which it was worded, or maybe even the absence or presence of certain punctuation marks—you’ll understand that miscommunications simply happen. It is often easier to remedy these miscommunications in person because you can address it immediately, as opposed to over a long period of time with an email correspondence.





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When does an interaction need to be face to face?

 

If you need to let a teacher know that you won’t be in class on a certain day because you’re sick, then it is probably okay just sending them an email. The same goes for asking a question about homework or sending a document (although obviously each interaction depends upon the circumstances and your prior history with said teacher).

 

There are certain interactions, however, that should always be held in person. When it comes to more serious matters like asking for a letter of recommendation, disputing a grade on a certain assignment, or even working out a conflict with a teacher, it is important to show your teacher respect by coming to speak with them face-to-face. When you asking for a letter of rec, for example, you are asking your teacher for a huge favor—for more tips and advice on this subject, take a look at this blog post: Getting the Best Recommendation Letter.

 

Discussing something like a grade that you don’t believe you deserve is another case in which you should definitely talk to your teacher in person. In cases like this, which so often result from a one-way or two-way misunderstanding, is it really important to be able to interpret the body language and nonverbal cues of your teacher. You don’t want to come off as insincere, sarcastic, snarky, or rude, especially if you plan on arguing that you deserved a higher grade than the one you actually received.

 

How do face to face communications help in the long run?

 

Overall, in choosing to communicate face to face as opposed to with email or text, your interlocutors are more likely to perceive you as professional. You will also build upon important communications skills that will remain relevant to you throughout your life, especially when you enter the workplace. Relying less on email will also give you more practice with face-to-face interaction and will ultimately make you less nervous to directly communicate going forward—after all, you will have had more experience!

 

Conclusion

 

Though email might seem like the best way to go for situations that are seemingly intimidating, there are some cases in which you should almost always talk to your teachers, supervisors, bosses, or other authority figures in person. Unnecessary miscommunications can often arise as a result of written communication, and being able to see someone’s body language and nonverbal cues can help you avoid this. Also, it is considered more courteous to talk to people in person when possible, and you will likely gain respect from doing so as well as valuable communications skills.

 

For more advice about talking to teachers and fostering good professional relationships, consider checking out CollegeVine’s Mentorship Service. The program will pair you with a student mentor who has been through it all, who will offer you helpful advice on everything from extracurriculars to college apps to scholarships.

 

Consider checking out the CollegeVine Zen Blog as well; this website focuses on the mental health of students applying to college and offers advice for people who might feel anxious talking to professors or other figures of authority.

 

For more advice on communicating effectively, check out these blog posts:

 

Dealing with Test Anxiety

5 Quick Tips for Composing a Professional Email

How to Address A Mental Health Issue or Disability On Your College Application

The Introvert’s Guide to Networking in High School

Devin Barricklow

Devin Barricklow

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Devin Barricklow is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major at Columbia University. She’s really excited to be able to share her expertise about the college process with students who need advice. When she isn’t writing for CollegeVine, she enjoys reading the poems of Mary Oliver, going to concerts in the city, or cooking (preferably something with lots of bok choy and ginger).
Devin Barricklow