In my youth, I only had three typical ways to communicate with another person. I'm not speaking of mass communication, but of talking to an individual. What were those ways? I could meet face-to-face. I could write a letter. I could call on the phone. Life was pretty simple when I was young.
Sure, there were other means to interact. Some might mention carrier pigeons, but that's just another way to deliver a letter. Still, others would say there were walkie-talkies or ham radios. But to keep this real, those forms of communication were just variations of what a telephone gives us - a sound (phone) coming from afar (tele).
But in today's Digital Age, the options by which we can communicate have multiplied and become more complex. Though there is a myriad of ways to do the following, we could probably boil these additional means of communication down into three categories. I can email a person. I can text. Or I can use the various forms of social media to speak to him or her. I may do these activities on a phone but, oh my, they are much different than a phone call.
Again, remember in this exercise we are only thinking of the routes of personal conversation and not mass communication such as publishing a book or writing a blog article. With that given, what is the best form of communicating at a given time?
To help us, think of the above six ways available for us to speak to another person as a six-lane highway. On an expressway, typically slower traffic is on the right as faster traffic passes on the left. If you think of communication like driving a car on a highway, you have to consider such factors as time, safety, consideration of others around you, etc. With this in mind, we might position these six forms of communication in the following lanes as they indicate both the speed of delivery and the risk of a "crash", i.e., words wrongly impacting the intended recipient or others that could be involved.
To justify some of these lanes, I would say a letter (Lane 2) is in a safer lane than an email (Lane 4) because a letter is less likely to be seen by someone else and takes longer to write than typing an email. Plus, you have to put it in an envelope, address it, put a stamp on it, place it in the mailbox then wait for it to arrive. A phone call (Lane 3) is in a slower lane than the other three modern forms of communication (Lanes 4-6) to the left because it leaves little record, has less chance of being overheard by others, and, in this day when people rarely answer their cell phones, takes more planning to execute and deliver.
With these forms of interaction with another person before us, here are three "road rules of wisdom" I seek to practice to make sure I am in the proper communication lane. Certainly, other rules could be offered, but these basic ones save one a great deal of time and trouble if practiced faithfully.
Use the faster lanes to disseminate information, not deal with personal matters. Social media and texting are great for telling someone necessary information but are too impersonal and miss nuance to get into significant relational matters. The left lanes are definitely not a great place to debate politics, theology, or interpersonal conflict. I seek to practice personally what one chief administrative officer told me he coaches his staff to do. They maintain the "two emails" rule. If two communications through email do not resolve a problem, he instructs them to call or meet in person. How much more should we avoid debating in a comment section on Facebook to resolve conflict! "When there are many words, wrongdoing is unavoidable, but one who restrains his lips is wise" (Prov. 10:19).
Recognize that the more sensitive the communication, the more to the right you should travel. Obviously, you would never communicate a confidential matter to a friend via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., as other eyes would be upon it. Likewise, every time we send a digital message we need to remember that it has the potential of being spread instantaneously around the world. The Proverbs say, "Discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you" (Prov. 2:11). So as you weigh the sensitivity of a matter, the more careful you need to be, the farther to the right you should travel. For example, I have often chosen to speak to someone on the phone rather than answer an email question I have received about an individual as I want to be careful what I say and that my heart and intent are heard.
Though you may make arrangements for it in other lanes, handle conflict in Lane 1 whenever possible. When you are at odds with another, you may arrange to meet via text or email, but you need to work as much as possible to meet with that person face-to-face. For the Lord says, "Now if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have gained your brother" (Matt. 18:15). If for some reason you are not able to meet, you should be in the lanes as close to Lane 1 as possible. Looking a brother in the eye, letting him hear the tone of your voice, and showing love and concern in person are the Christian way. Firing missives over social media is the coward's approach to conflict.
Driving a car on the highway unwisely can be deadly. With the "power of death and life in the tongue," so can communicating in the wrong lanes.