I have recently thought a great deal about communication and why it appears to be such a difficult task to perform well.
When I conduct my Successful Customer Relations presentation, I always begin with a discussion on communication. I talk about how we use a filtration system to encode an idea into verbal and nonverbal communication. I talk about the need to minimize the noise factors that interfere with effective communication. I also cover the need for feedback to ensure understanding of the message and idea being communicated. I even cover body language. I have recently realized that I cover the subject very well, yet something has been missing.
You see, although I cover the mechanics and the “should dos” well, I did not cover the methods and reasons for communication. I will correct this omission now.
First let me state that good communication involves proper informing. Informing is telling the what, the why, what can be expected as a result, and gaining acceptance of understanding. Without acceptance, there is no communication. Now let’s discuss the methods of communication.
The first is face-to-face. In this method we have immediate response and can observe the nonverbal cues from the body language. We can use this method when the subject is both urgent and important. Although possible, often a written record of the conversation is not kept.
Telephone is the next best method to ensure that the message is communicated. You miss the body language yet you can hear the voice inflections that carry much of the message. The telephone allows for a full feedback driven discussion and allows for communication of urgent and important issues. Contemporaneous notes will provide a written record.
Texting is a recent addition to the communications arsenal. It is immediate and can be used for important and urgent communication. We may have a written record of the conversation. We lose the nonverbal cues now.
Email seems to be the preferred method of communication now. We send an email, it disappears onto the Internet, and we expect a reply sometime in the future. This method may be used for important but not for urgent messages unless we are sure that we will get a prompt reply. Any written communication is subject to the Ladder of Inference effect, so we must be careful with our wording. (If you don’t know what that effect is, Google it or see my discussion in a previous TechNation article).
Then there is the “social media” – Facebook, Twitter, etc. Although the users consider these methods important and urgent, especially Twitter, how important is it for me to know, right now or at all, that you just ate a ham sandwich without mustard?
I will not discuss snail mail, newsletters and webinars here so I have space to discuss the next topic – email usage. You see, email has become so prevalent that it has superseded all other forms of communication. It is abused and overused and quite often ignored. Our expectations are that we can “intrude” on anyone about anything if we send an email. We don’t even have to provide all the information within the email, nor do we have to use proper spelling, grammar and courtesy.
I get many emails that do not even have a nice greeting and close, just one giant paragraph that was obviously not given much preparation time, leaving me to decipher the what, the why and my expectation. I have come to the conclusion that email is not a form of communication at all. There is no communication without acceptance of understanding. If you leave me to make the interpretation, I guarantee that I will interpret it wrong.
Also, email does not seem to adhere to any etiquette. Do you even reply, and by when? What should I do if you do not reply in a reasonable time? What is a reasonable amount of time before I escalate to a phone call, or a face-to-face? How do I know that you really understood my intent? I propose that email be used for non-important yet possibly urgent topics. If it is important and urgent call me, leave a message and I will get back to you in a reasonable amount of time.