Would you use voicemail to fire someone, recite your marriage vows in an e-mail, or end a romantic relationship via text? –– Of course not. But unfortunately, these communication media are used inappropriately every day. The fact is, each form of communication — face-to-face conversations, telephone calls, social media, e-mails, and texting — has its advantages and disadvantages. So, if you’re partial to one communication medium simply because you’re comfortable with it, you’re likely to get burned. When it comes to communication, one size doesn’t fit all. So, call me . . . maybe.
What Are You Trying to Achieve?
Before you select the right communication medium, there are many factors to consider: Is the subject matter important or trivial? Are there specific goals for the conversation or are you merely keeping in touch? Is the communication urgent? Is the subject matter sensitive? Will one person or several people be involved? What’s the availability of your contact(s)? Will everyone be in the same time zone? Will the communication be primarily one way (a directive) or is dialogue necessary? Is there a need to keep a written record of the exchange?
Face-to-face conversation. There’s nothing like a face-to-face conversation for building a relationship, discussing sensitive information, or making sure that everyone is on the same page. Face-to-face conversations enable you to look into someone’s eyes while they’re talking, hear the inflection in their voice, and observe their body language. But meeting individually with several people may be costly and logistically difficult to engineer. That’s where telephone calls and video chats come in.
Telephone calls and video chats. If you’re catching up with busy people in various locations, telephone calls and video chats are very efficient modes of communication. Plus, when the subject matter is important, or sensitive items are discussed, these modes facilitate two-way dialogue. The fact is, being able to hear voice inflection and sense the sender’s intent helps to avoid misunderstandings that can occur with written communication. A video chat takes it one step further and allows you to pick up on nonverbal cues — crossed arms, raised eyebrows, and even smiles. But I can assure you that no one’s sitting around waiting for your call. So, advance notice is a good idea, or the person you are trying to reach might not be available to talk when you call –– think phone tag. If you do reach them without prior notice, it’s always polite to ask if you’re calling at a convenient time before launching into your conversation.
Social media. Remember how easy it was to keep in touch with friends when you were in college? You’d see folks on campus, in the student union, cafeteria, or library — or even in class. Of course, when everyone went their separate ways, it became harder to remain in touch; that is, until social media hit the scene. Now, you can make new friends and stay in touch with old ones around the world –– from your living room.
Social media makes it easy to exchange small talk, share an article or video, or join a discussion group. And you can choose to be an active participant or remain a fly on the wall. But remember, if you are conducting a sensitive conversation or ranting about an issue close to your heart, your five hundred closest friends may be listening in. Furthermore, who knows who else has access to the information? Many people think that once a post is deleted, it’s gone from the Internet. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Your digital footprint follows you everywhere and can catch up with you one day.
E-mail. When you write an e-mail, you can make sure that your message is “perfectly” worded before hitting “Send.” And the recipient can read it at their convenience –– alleviating telephone tag. In addition, e-mail provides a record of the conversation if you think there will be a need to refer back to it at a later time. But e-mails can create misunderstandings because you can’t hear the tone of the sender’s voice or see their body language. In fact, it’s common to think the sender had an attitude or was angry when the e-mail was written, which could be the furthest thing from the truth. On the other hand, when conversations take place in person or by phone, questions can be answered and misunderstandings clarified. The bottom line is, e-mails are great if you want to build your relationship with your pen pal, but they won’t do much to strengthen a friendship.
Texting. If you have an urgent request, want to remind someone to bring home milk, or let someone know that you arrived at your destination safely, think about texting. But it’s less than optimal if you’re using texts to conduct a serious conversation or trying to explain something in detail. Plus, although it may be a convenient time for you to send the text, unlike e-mail, the recipient receives it instantly and you may be interrupting the recipient during a busy time.
The bottom line . . . According to UCLA research, 55 percent of meaning in an interaction comes from facial and body language and 38 percent comes from vocal inflection. Only 7 percent of an interaction’s meaning is derived from the words themselves. This is confirmed by MIT research that says it is advisable to use electronic communication, such as texting, tweeting, and e-mail, only to transmit and confirm simple information.
Better Communication: A Wake-up Call
Please don’t get wedded to one communication tool just because you’re familiar with it. Today, you have many tools at your disposal. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses. And, just as it’s critical to package a great idea properly if you want it to be well received, choosing the right communication vehicle will have as much impact as the message itself. That’s why the next time you have something to say, you have a choice: Give thought to the best way to communicate your message or spend your time doing damage control afterward.
So, call me . . . maybe.