As gadgets and applications proliferate, you may feel overwhelmed with communication channel choices for sending or receiving messages. Is it best to text, e-mail, pick up the phone, or have a face-to-face conversation? When should you put it in writing? How will your communication method be perceived by the recipient(s)?
There are no simple answers, but it’s helpful to balance common sense with sensitivity. This rule applies to message content and to the people involved. Below are suggestions I shared with MBA students during a seminar. When I was interacting with this group, I noted that many were using iPhones, Blackberries, or laptops while participating in our discussion. They seemed comfortable managing various channels simultaneously. Recent research suggests that if you are able to integrate high tech and high touch communication methods, as these students did, you may be more effective in meeting your goals. Flexibility and familiarity with multiple tools is a strength.
Tips for Using Common Sense and Sensitivity
• Be mindful, discerning, selective and respectful of communication’s complexity. Take the time to make thoughtful choices.
• Face the facts: there is no one-size-fits-all formula for effective communication on the job. Some channels will work for some of the people, some of the time.
• Have an open mind and be willing to take risks in the name of improved communication. Perhaps you prefer to convey difficult information via e-mail, but your co-worker will be appreciative and more cooperative if you show up to discuss the matter in person.
• Create e-mail subject lines, voicemail messages, and other requests from the recipients’ perspective: what’s in it for them? Is your message user-friendly?
• Inform colleagues of your communication routines or idiosyncrasies. (e.g., “I check e-mail once a day, and I am rarely at my desk, so it’s best to call my cellphone for an immediate response.”)
• Balance your strengths, preferences, or habits with the needs of important communication partners/audiences. Perhaps you love texting. Maybe your boss or a client believes texting is unprofessional and wants to hear your voice on the phone.
• Be aware of organizational norms and whether your communication strengths are a good fit. Consider context, role, relationship, diversity, and status issues. You may need to modify your style, even radically, to make a positive connection, earn trust, or build rapport.
• Be clear and direct in all your requests; create every message with an efficient outcome in mind.
• Be proactive and do your part to stop phone tag and e-mail excess!
• Know when to turn off gadgets (laptop, cell, Blackberry, etc.) if you wish to make friends and influence (certain) people. If you’re using technology during a meeting, ask permission, or explain that you’re using it to take meeting-related notes.
• Beware of assuming or labeling communication preferences by gender or age. New research indicates that those with high levels of digital media engagement comprise a broad demographic.
In sum, embrace communication channels or tools by learning how to use them wisely, not “just because they’re there.” All these choices are designed to aid communication, but they can become a barrier if used indiscriminately or inappropriately.