In today’s workplace, we face a dizzying array of options to communicate. Which do you choose: e-mail, phone, voice mail tag, text messaging, instant messaging (“IMing”), paper notes, blogs, face to face, conference calls, Skype, Facetime or yelling over the cubicle wall?
There are many things to consider before deciding.
- Is what I need to communicate critical, requiring immediate attention or an FYI?
- Who is my audience and who else might potentially hear/read it?
- Does this need to be documented or tracked?
- How can I relay the message to lessen the odds of it being misunderstood?
There are also generational preferences to consider. In general, boomers (1946-64) still prefer the phones they grew up with, Gen X (1965-82) is big into e-mail, while the youngest members of today’s work force, the “net generation” or the Millennials (1982-now), strongly prefer real-time communication technologies such as IMing and texting.
Adding to the complexity are project managers preferring to use the latest software tracking devices and internal “techno jargon,” which may be Latin to the rest of us.
My favorite: “Joe — pls frwd kernal with IPSec immediately — system compromise imminent!” which left me wondering if something in the produce department needed a prescription. And we thought the “women are from Venus and men are from Mars” challenge was complex!
Breakdowns are inevitable — boomers leaving endless voice mails to Millennials, who respond by text (to some who still haven’t figured out how to read them), then wonder why they get no response.
The loops seem endless. E-mails, voice mails, texts — what do you respond with this time, and did I or didn’t I already?
Messages get lost, follow-up doesn’t happen and the communication gap widens, leading to missed expectations, confusion and frustration.
Granted, new technologies offer advantages. IMing and text offer immediacy and convenience, making them very popular with the on-the-go, ready, fire, aim (and get it done) worker.
On the con side, deciphering “tone” with an IM is almost impossible (no voice or nonverbal cues), there’s no paper trail or documentation (think follow-up) and the messages often interrupt co-workers trying to get work done.
Boomers complain that IMs interrupt their focus, yet for the youngest members of the work force, this poses no problem. According to the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of recent college grads did homework while instant messaging (while their incredulous boomer parents wondered how they could focus).
E-mail has its pros and cons. On the pro side, it allows for documentation and a way to look back and check what was communicated (or agreed to).
On the con side, those long strings are irritating and time-consuming to decipher what action is required, and e-mails get lost in the hundreds that pile into people’s inboxes each day.
One of my pet peeves about e-mail is professionals who hide behind it, using it to avoid having an uncomfortable face-to-face conversation while claiming they are “communicating.”
What you can do:
- Find out what medium your co-workers (and boss!) prefer. Let them know preferences (tell them if you typically turn off your instant messaging option so you can work in the morning or if you don’t check e-mail at night).
- If the message is critical, relay it by several means. For example, start with a phone call (and/or text), back up critical points in an e-mail and follow it up with a face-to-face visit. If you find yourself in voice mail tag jail, suggest a best time to reach you or moving the communication over to e-mail.
- Find out if your company has any user policies and/or guidelines.
- What you say can be used against you. IMs can be copied and saved. Don’t say anything in any form that you wouldn’t say in front of your boss or that can damage your reputation, credibility or that of your company.
- Learn how to use current technologies and the shortcut language (ask for help from your Millennial co-worker).
- Avoid using text, IM or e-mail for sensitive or difficult conversations. With no nonverbal cues to help us decipher intent and meaning, there is simply too much left to interpretation.
Maybe I’m old school (I will out myself as a boomer), but I firmly believe that the best way to improve working relationships with co-workers is via human connection.
In my book, face to face is still the preferred method to communicate anything sensitive, of importance or that might be potentially misunderstood. I like to hear the person’s tone of voice to decipher urgency and importance and look into their eyes to see how they are reacting to my request or challenge. Most of today’s technology leaves out body language and tone clues.
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