Let’s take a look at how and why we communicate with our clients, employees, and everyone in or lives. It’s something we all take for granted. We don’t even think about it. Normally we choose the communication method and pattern that most suits our personality and hope the person we’re communicating with accepts it. But is it the most effective for the outcome we want?
For the most part, introverts like texting, extroverts like face to face, writers like email, etc. Let's take a look at all the different methods of communication and analyze which ones are optimal in given situations, throw out our preferences, and learn to use the right communication tool at the right time to get what we want.
Generally speaking, these are the typical means of communication in our current business landscape:
- Phone call
- Phone conference call
- Video call
- Video conference call
- Text message
- Chat (via website or other apps)
The first thing you’ll notice is that you probably prefer one of the above more than the others, and you’ve probably spent some time wishing you could eliminate the rest and just use the one or two you like. That’s because your personality thrives more in some of these than others. But objectively, can your preference actually be the optimal type for what you are trying to accomplish with another person (who also has a preference) every time? NO! So, do we just ask the other person which they prefer and take a “the customer is always right” stance? If we did, we’d end up with no better situation than just choosing your preference every time.
Instead, push for the right type, despite your preferences and the preferences of the person you’re communicating with. It’s futile for two introverts to try to text their way into something that requires touch and feel, no matter how painful. It’s also a waste of time for two extroverts to set up a meeting, travel across town, only to answer a question that could be two lines in a text, no matter how painful.
It’s important to note that there’s almost always a conflict between preference and efficiency. Ask yourself the question: are you willing to choose the right tool for the job, or build a lesser product because you like “using a hammer on everything”?
Understand that extroverts will often interpret a request for less personal methods as “cold”, while introverts will often interpret a request for more interactive human contact as “wasteful”. Because of this, it’s important to precede a request for a certain type of communication with an explainer. For example, if a text message is the appropriate method of communication and you’re dealing with a person who likes face-to-face, you might say: “In the interest of saving time for our in-person meeting later, can you send me a quick text of XYZ”? Or, if a meeting is the appropriate method and you’re dealing with an introvert, you might say “We’d save time meeting quickly about XYZ for 10 minutes, and then we can do the rest through text”. Whatever the situation, pick the objectively right method, be disciplined, show empathy to the other party, and show them the value.
So which methods are appropriate for which situations?
Use this to bond, improve relationships, connect, express emotion, form memories, and when tactile touch and feel or spatial referencing are necessary. This type is bad for technical details and when referencing will be required (“I thought you said…”).
Phone calls are good for meandering conversations with lower structure, brainstorming, or expressing emotion when the two parties are apart physically. They can be good at structured calls as long as the information doesn’t need to be referenced later, or will be recorded by some other means. Phone calls are ineffective for technical details and for referencing details after the fact (“I thought you said…”) They also make it impossible to distinguish body language and inaudible queues in less vocally expressive people.
Phone conference call
See above, but add the aggravating fact that everyone talks over each other and can’t perceive who will talk next. Timing is a nightmare. Almost always avoid a phone conference call unless there is one presenter and everyone is always muted.
Great for when two parties are at separate locations and facial expression and body language are necessary, such as when you need to throw an idea out and watch someone’s reaction. With recent advances in technology the quality of video and latency improvements have made this choice a pretty effective one. Video conferencing can build human bonds and memories if done right. It’s not as warm as face-to-face, but you can accomplish many of the same objectives. Video calls are sometimes bad for technical planning. Don’t use it when you’ll need to reference later, unless you’re meticulously writing things down as you go and send a summary after the meeting is over.
Video conference call
See above, with muting features and gallery view on increasingly larger screens, groups are surprisingly effective.
Use email for one-on-one planning, technical details, overviews, and when referencing facts later is important. Email is searchable, threaded, and effective for recording. Email effectively communicates technical and complex ideas (URL's, step by step directions, etc.). Each word is deliberate and necessary to the goal. Once the conversation is over, the information can be referenced and verified. Email is bad for groups and expressing emotion (unless you’re an exceptional writer).
Use for quick discussion of short ideas. Text messages effectively communicate technical and complex ideas (URL's, step by step directions, etc.). Communication happens in the moment of each person's convenience. Each word is deliberate and necessary to the goal. Once the conversation is over, the information can be referenced and verified. If conversations are long, or if more than one topic is being discussed at a time, ideas can become lost in the scroll.
Use for immediate discussion of technical details with groups. Great for bringing multiple people into a project and referencing details later. Because chat tools have threads, groups, multimedia uploads, and flagging, they’re effective in almost all areas. Chat can effectively communicate technical and complex ideas (URL's, step by step directions, etc.). Communication happens in the moment of each person's convenience. Each word is deliberate and necessary to the goal. Once the conversation is over, the information can be referenced and verified. The downside is that most chat tools require a client to join an existing group or app, which can be cumbersome for some.
As with everything, pick the right tool for the job and hone your skills with all the tools in your toolbelt!
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.