It’s amazing how non-verbal communication can sometimes be more powerful than verbal communication. Chronemics, which is the study of meaning and communication of time is an important concept in understanding non-verbal communication.

A pertinent example is how we choose to respond to an email. We may choose to reply right away, give it a day or two, or never respond at all. No doubt, not responding to an email (even if done inadvertently) may signal the desire to limit or restrict communication. Same applies to unreturned phone calls, texts and messages via social media. Failure to respond or delaying response only adds to the frustration, can prove irritating, and negatively impact relationships.

Not responding to someone’s email in due time is synonymous to not following proper business etiquette. Some say that three days is the average amount of time one can take in replying to a message. However, when Internet access and smart phones are the norm of the day for many, waiting longer to reply often results in misunderstandings. It may even fall in the realm of respecting someone else’s time through our non-verbal communication. A safe way to deal with a plethora of email especially when one is preoccupied with other work is to send out a one line note indicating that you would get back soon.
Depending on the situation, a delay or promptness in responding to emails can set the stage for indicating how serious one is communicating. As human beings, we do have the ability to control actions and how we allocate our time. What is worth pondering upon is that time is valuable and in the age of digital media, chronemics is something to be mindful of.

Here are a few research articles that discuss the important concept of chronemics:

  • Kalman, Y. M., Scissors, L. E., Gill, A. J., & Gergle, D. (2013). Online chronemics convey social information. Computers in Human Behavior29(3), 1260-1269.
  • Tikkanen, S. A., & Frisbie, A. (2015). When Bad Timing Is Actually Good: Reconceptualizing Response Delays. Debates for the Digital Age: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Our Online World, 305.
  • Walther, J. B., & Tidwell, L. C. (1995). Nonverbal cues in computer‐mediated communication, and the effect of chronemics on relational communication.Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce5(4), 355-378.

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