THE BLOG

Honesty Lost in Translation

01/03/2012 09:03 am ET | Updated Mar 04, 2012

As a therapist, I'm in the face-to-face business. On occasion, I'll conduct a session over the phone and I've certainly responded to email, but the vast majority of my work occurs through physical proximity. Not only do I listen to what people say, I note how and when they say it. I'm listening to what their words communicate and I'm listening to what their body language communicates. People are an amalgamation, fascinating and complex. If people could be seen as colors, each would be a work of swirling, chromatic artistry. These kaleidoscopes of tints and tones and hues are best viewed in person.

It seems like we're doing less and less in person. Take shopping. Cyber Monday saw the biggest online sales day in history at $1.25 billion. Monday through Friday sales for the week after Thanksgiving was almost $6 billion. Six billion translates into millions of people choosing not to interact with other people in shops and stores and malls for at least some of their purchases. Instead, these people chose to interact face-to-face with their digital devices. So far, online spending this holiday season is up 15 percent over last year. If there's a competition going on, it appears in-person has lost the "mo."

In-person has lost the "mo" not just in shopping but also in communication. I used to call people and talk. Then, I discovered email. Now, I text and so do a lot of other people, especially younger people. Is texting a person-to-person activity? Yes, but with texting it appears things can get lost in translation.

A recent article outlined a study coming out next year that paired up 140 students. Half of the students were to role play being a stockbroker and half were to role play being a buyer. Those in the stockbroker role were told the stock they had to sell would lose half of its value in a week but they were given a financial incentive to sell as much of this lousy stock as possible (think Enron or IMF Global). When the interaction between stockbroker and buyer happened via text, honesty took a beating. The stockbrokers were more apt to lie when texting than they were with face-to-face communication, video conferencing or what was called "audio chat," which I took to mean speaking over the phone. The article concluded, "people are more likely to lie when texting."

When you start adding in any interaction that allows for more of those personal colors to bloom forth, obfuscation increases in difficulty. Apparently, it's easier to lie in monochrome. Texting is, after all, a black-and-white proposition. This article called texting "lean media" and said "it doesn't effectively transfer the rich emotional cues" that you get from other, more personal, forms of communication.

People lie to me all the time. It's fairly standard in the counseling business. I expect people to lie and watch for it because it tells me a great deal about the person. Lying is like a locked door; I immediately know there's something important on the other side. I'm used to being lied to and don't take it personal.

Most people, though, don't like to be lied to and the "buyers" in this study were no exception. There was an oddity, however, that surfaced. Buyers were "more furious if they had been lied to via text than if they had been lied to in face-to-face conversation." Researchers surmised that the leaner the media, the less of a rapport was established, a rapport that acted as a buffer to things like getting angry over lying.

Face-to-face creates a rapport and, without it, people tend to lie more and become angrier. That's not a positive trend to me. I'd like to see the "mo" shift back toward face-to-face communication and increased rapport between people. Realistically, though, I'm sure I'll still do a lot of my shopping online. It may not be better, but it's easier.