When we want to communicate something to others, one of the most important decisions we have to make after deciding WHAT we want to communicate, is HOW. That’s where the communication “channel” come in. In 1719, our options were pretty much limited to face-to-face communication or sending a written letter. In 2019, we have a lot of channels to choose from, such as:
- Snail mail
- Voice mail
- Text messaging
- Instant messaging
- Video conferencing/calling
- And more!
Unfortunately, we don’t always make great choices when it comes time to communicate. In fact, the biggest mistake I see people make is choosing the channel that’s best or most convenient for them without thinking of what’s best or most convenient for their audience or what’s most appropriate for the message.
Here’s an example. A client I had several years ago was in the unenviable position of having to lay off a group of employees. This guy was a really nice guy. He didn’t want to have to lay off the employees and he definitely didn’t want to have to face them when he told them they were out of a job. So he took the easy way out – he chose what I call “Cowardice by Technology.” Rather than meeting with the employees face-to-face, one-on-one to deliver the bad news, he waited until the employees’ shifts ended and their cars had left the parking lot and then he quickly called their homes to leave voicemail messages they’d receive when they got home. Needless to say, this didn’t go well with the employees, nor with the spouses and children who got to the answering machine before some of the employees arrived home.
These days, most of the “Cowardice by Technology” I see comes in the form of email and text messages. Too many of us are hiding behind our computer and phone screens sending messages electronically because we don’t have the ba . . . guts to either face others with bad news, or we want to be able to send a spiteful, ugly, or petty message without having to look the other person in the eye.
It’s time to stop taking the easy way out with communication and instead be more thoughtful in how we communicate with others.
Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help you choose the right communication channel. However, you can’t just ask one question and think you have the right or only answer. You need to ask yourself all the questions to guide you to the right conclusion in choosing the best channel.
- What’s the receiver’s preferred communication method? Using others’ preferred method, rather than your own, increases the chance of your message being received.
- How quickly does the information need to go out? If you have to get information to a large group of people quickly, email is probably faster than making a bunch of phone calls or getting everyone together for a meeting. If the information is just for one person, a call might be quicker than taking the time to formulate a well-written email or arranging a time to meet.
- Do I need a response quickly? If I need an immediate response, a phone call or text might be the way to go, especially if I know the other party doesn’t spend a lot of time at his or her desk.
- How complicated is the message? A complex message usually needs time to digest. At the same time, it may also generate a lot of questions. It may be best to send an email and follow up with a call or face-to-face, than to try to explain a complicated idea in a phone call. If the complex message needs to go to a group of people and will generate a lot of questions, it might be best to hold a meeting where everyone can hear the answers at the same time.
- How likely is the message to be misinterpreted? If the likelihood is high, then it might be a better idea to meet face-to-face, or pick up the phone, than to send a written message. That way you can answer any questions and provide clarification.
- Is the information personal or is it bad news? If the answer is yes, you should probably deliver it face-to-face, or if that’s impossible or will deliver the information too late, then contacting the person by phone might be best.
So this week, be sure to think before you hit, “SEND” on that email or text. Ask yourself, “Is this the best way for the receiver to get this message? Will this channel achieve my objective, or is there a better way? When you do, you’ll find that the quality of your communication will be improved and people will appreciate your thoughtful consideration in how you’re communicating with them.