“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” (Anthony Robbins)
Know which form of communication to use and when.
There are so many ways of communicating nowadays – phone, email, text, Skype, IM, Facebook, Twitter – it is difficult to know which is the right one to use.
My feeling is that people generally opt for their ‘favourite’ method of communication without stopping to think whether it is the most appropriate for the purpose.
So here is my easy to follow Guide to Communication Etiquette – which form of communication to use and when:
The communication channel that you select should depend on your message. Before you choose which method to use, consider whether your message is:
- Interactive or static Should your communication be one-way or two-way? Interactive means a back-and-forth conversation; static means delivery of a message. What does your message require? Brainstorming and questioning require interactivity; updates can be static.
- Personal or impersonal Personal means face-to-face, or on the phone. Impersonal communication is in writing. Does your communication require you to hear or see your customers or colleagues? Are you trying to build relationships? Will the tone of voice be important for this particular message? Are the ideas potentially confusing? Put some thought into whether your presence is a vital component of your message.
Once you have established this, you can choose your communication channel as follows:
Email (Impersonal Interactive)
Emails are the perfect means of communicating when a substantial amount of detail needs to be provided, for example, a work brief, a summary of a conversation or minutes of a meeting. They ensure that all the information is laid out logically and avoid ambiguity or confusion, so acting as a useful reference point.
People often hide behind email – it is the ideal way to make an excuse without having to confront someone face to face. Word of advice – DON’T! The recipient will see right through this – do yourself a favour and pick up the phone in this instance!
Use emails in the following circumstances:
- informal, quick update
- distribution of lengthy or complex information
- legal purposes/hard copy requirement
- sending of detailed documents for review and response
- discussion of a familiar topic with little need for explanation
- quick sending of important update to many people; need for record-keeping
Text and Instant Messaging (IM) (Impersonal Interactive)
Texts are great to use when a quick question needs to be asked and a short answer elicited. They are perfect for social and informal use. Instant Messaging (eg BBM, iMessage) are like texts, but in real time, which is great to have an informal conversation with someone.
If a text is more than a couple of lines long, then you should consider putting the information onto an email instead.
Telephone and Skype (Personal Interactive)
When it is an urgent matter and a quick, instant answer is sought, the telephone is the best option.
The problem with the telephone is that, whereas the caller may have every intention of asking a specific question or seeking particular information, there is such a thing as politeness. The conversation will start with pleasantries and can easily move away from the initial purpose of the conversation.
ALWAYS start a conversation by asking if it is a convenient time to talk, or if there is a more preferable time, especially if it is a social call without a specific purpose. Maybe send an email or text stating the purpose of the call and to arrange a convenient time to talk.
If you are leaving a voicemail, state the purpose of the call rather than simply asking the person to call you back. If they are aware of the reason for the call, they are more likely to return the call. And make your message succinct!
Skype is a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), basically communicating via the internet. Use Skype in the same instances as you would the Telephone (see above).
One advantage with Skype is that it is free to make Skype to Skype calls. If you don’t have a Skype account, you can sign up here and suggest your contacts do the same. The disadvantage is that connection can sometimes be weak and calls often fail.
Video calling is possible, files can also be shared during a Skype conversation and Skype has an Instant Message facility which could be used to check someone’s availability for a call before making the call itself.
When to use the telephone:
- brainstorming and negotiation
- relationship building
- discussion of documents sent, project updates or status
- sending of urgent message/need for immediate response
- need for corrective action or praise
- ensurance of privary
- hearing someone’s voice to ‘read between the lines’
Social Media (Impersonal Static)
The online networking site, Facebook, is a great way to communicate to your friends or clients in one fell swoop, via your Status Update. A Status Update can be as long or as short as you want it to be, and can include hyperlinks, location, photos and you can even tag your Facebook friends. Facebook also has an Instant Message facility where you can chat with one or more of your contacts in real time.
Twitter is an online social networking service and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read text-based messages of up to 140 characters, known as “tweets”. Anyone who follows you on Twitter can read your tweets, so this is just another way of communicating to a wider audience.
Other communication methods:
Face to face meetings for when physical presence is required. If the meeting does not require problem solving, brainstorming, or input from employees, use an alternative way to share or distribute information.
Write a letter when formality is required, or for legal purposes when a hard copy is required.
Communication Etiquette: the golden rules
- Whatever form of communication is used, I firmly believe that a response should be delivered using the same method. So if someone sends you an email, respond by email; if you receive a text, send a text back! The sender has selected it for a reason!
- Consider your target audience and the method of communication which will garner the best response from them.
- Use the most appropriate form of communication for the intended purpose following the guidelines above.
- To avoid wasting time on the wrong technology, put some thought into the best choice prior to communicating.
“Communication works for those who work at it.”(John Powell)