Being able to understand non-verbal cues and fully communicate are two key skills necessary for successful negotiation and mediation. Without having a good handle on what the other party is feeling, it’s difficult to grasp whether progress is being made or not. Negotiation and mediation is impossible without being able to communicate back and forth with the other party.

With the advent of non-verbal digital communications (texts, Twitter, instant messaging, etc.) those crucial skills may be degrading the more we use those channels. Children’s social skills may be in decline as face to face communications are being replaced by non-visual, non-verbal digital media, according to a UCLA psychology study discussed in an article of Science Daily.

Art of Conversation Being Killed by Digital Communication?

Scientists found that sixth-graders who went five days without using a smartphone, television or other digital screen did substantially better at reading human emotions than sixth-graders from the same school who continued to spend hours each day looking at their electronic devices.

While there are benefits of digital media in education, there are also costs, according to Patricia Greenfield, a UCLA professor of psychology and senior author of the study. “Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues — losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people — is one of the costs. The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills,” she’s quoted as saying.

Psychologists studied two sets of sixth-graders from a Southern California public school: 51 who lived together for five days at the Pali Institute, a nature and science camp and 54 others from the same school. The camp doesn’t allow students to use electronic.

  • At the beginning and end of the study, both groups were tested for their ability to recognize other people’s emotions in photos and videos.
  • Students were shown pictures of faces that were happy, sad, angry or scared and asked to identify their feelings.
  • They also watched videos of actors interacting with one another and were asked to describe the characters’ emotions.
  • Those at the camp improved significantly over the five days in their ability to read facial emotions and other nonverbal cues to emotion, compared with the students who continued to use their media devices.

Students in the study reported that they text, watch television and play video games for an average of four-and-a-half hours on a typical school day. Some surveys have found that figure is on the low end compared to national surveys.

It’s not just the ability to perceive other’s emotions that can be harmed by the continuous use of digital communications, but the preference for texting over phone calls is also degrading our ability to have conversations. Many experts say the most successful communicators have the ability to do both, talk or text, and know the best times for each, reports the New York Daily News. They fear more of us are avoiding or losing our ability to have face-to-face conversations that are vital in the workplace, personal relationships, negotiations and mediations.

“(Conversation) is an art that’s becoming as valuable as good writing,” says Janet Sternberg, a linguist and professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University in New York. She says she’s noticed more students don’t look her in the eye and have trouble with the basics of direct conversation. These deficits won’t serve students well as they enter the adult world where conversations, or at least phone calls, are expected.

Attorneys aren’t sixth-graders or college students, but how many attorneys do you know who don’t have smart phones? The need for efficiency due to the demands of practice law make digital communications like texts and e-mails a frequent, daily occurrence. Non-verbal electronic communications may make you more efficient, but what are you losing as well?