Monday, October 19, 2009

Choose Your Method of Communication Effectively – Email, Phone, In-person, “Snail” Mail/Memos

Have you ever received an email from someone who just started at the company asking you to do something and you haven’t been introduced? Or what about the barrage of emails that go back and forth on one particular subject and still nothing gets accomplished except the art of confusion? Or have you played the popular “phone tag” game? The ability to choose the proper method of communication is important because you will get a lot accomplished, questions will be answered, and most importantly your electronic inbox or voice mail won’t be cluttered.


We know technology has become the fastest and easiest way to communicate, but is it always effective and appropriate?

DO use email when you have to have a “paper” trail or keep track of information.
DO use email for informational purposes (i.e. newsletters, announcements)
DO make email easier to read, wherever possible use bullet points and bold to show emphasis
DO change the subject line for responses so the FW: or FW: FW: is not the subject. Because the content has changed so should the subject line.

DO NOT use email if the message is more than a paragraph in length.
DO NOT use email as a form of relaying disturbing news (i.e. termination)
DO NOT write an email while you are emotionally charged (angry, sad, etc). Calm down and gather your thoughts before responding. This may be a case when you pick up the phone and discuss the issue.

Due to the fact that email has taken over the communication airwaves, sometimes we forget about the old Alexander Graham Bell invention. It’s so easy to use and just as fast yet we don’t pick up the phone.

DO use the phone when you have not actually met the person; although, for the first initial contact it is best to be introduced in-person, if possible.
DO use the phone when the message contains specific details.

DO NOT leave more than one voicemail in a given day. If after playing phone tag you still are unable to reach the person, send an email or if they are within walking distance, in the same department or company, take a break and go see them.
DO NOT leave a voicemail longer than a 1 or 1 ½ min. If there are large amounts of detail in the message it would be best to speak to the person directly or in person.

Phone etiquette is important, remember to leave your name and phone number twice when leaving a voicemail- once at the beginning and then at the end of the call. Also, if it is urgent and you need a response right away, let the receiver know that it is important and mention if you have a deadline. If you are going to be stepping away from your office for a period of time, leave that in the message as well, this will cut down on the “phone tag.”

Similar to using the phone, some people just don’t like in-person contact. However, in many situations it may be the most effective form of communicating. Speaking with someone in person requires eye contact, appropriate body language, as well as using effective intonation. That could very well take a lot out of a person. But it is important to communicate the message properly so that it is understood.

DO speak with someone directly in an effort to introduce yourself, especially if you will be asking them for information or delegating a task to them. Of course, this may not be possible because you are in different countries or parts of the world, the second method would be to pick up the phone, followed by an email introduction.

DO NOT speak with someone in-person if you are in a different emotional state than normal. If at all possible, avoid contact until your emotions have settled down. Emotions are contagious and can take over our frame of rational thinking.

Snail Mail/Memos or other paper correspondence
As much as we would like to try, we cannot get away from paper correspondence. We have to remember that not everyone is electronically savvy (hard to believe, isn’t it?) or for that matter they may not like the big, bad computer! For whatever reason, when all else fails and depending on the urgency, write a letter or send a memo.

The ability to choose an effective mode of communication is important and could impact the message. If you email someone asking them to complete a task and you have never met them, this could damage your potential relationship or if you continuously play the annoying game of “phone tag” (nobody wins by the way) and leave several messages you could be seen as pushy or obnoxious. Of course, this individual should have a voicemail message saying they are away and forwarding information of someone who could help, but that is another topic for a separate blog post. So, choose your communication tool effectively and save yourself time, energy, and face!

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