“When you got a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail” – Abraham Maslow
I once had to manage a team member who used to come by my office whenever he needed to communicate with me. Sometimes it was as much as 10 times a day. It was interrupting my work and was affecting my productivity. The employee did not realize what he was doing and stopping by my office each time he needed to reach me seemed natural to him. There are others who I worked with used other media like phone or email in a similar manner irrespective of the situation, topic or urgency.
In the modern workplace its essential that we understand not only how we prefer to communicate, but also the pros and cons of each media and when to utilize one vs another. This forms a basis for personal & workplace productivity.
Let us take a look at the 5 major communication media and understand the pros and cons of each:
- Personal: Being a one to one media, it’s more effective to talk to someone that send them a long email and expecting them to read. If you have been emailing a person quite a bit but, havent spoken with him – it’s ok to pick up a phone once and talk. It helps you develop a better relationship and get more done.
- Conveys urgency: Expresses a sense of urgency that email and most other media. It is usually best to call a desk/office phone instead of Mobile if it’s not extremely urgent.
- Interruption: You might be interrupting other person or catch them at the wrong time.
- Tracking and records: There is no way good way to track and log the conversation. However, you can work around this by summarizing the key actions/discussion in a brief email after the call.
Variation of phone is video calling (like Skype): It adds a more personal touch than a typical phone call. I’ve often used this when working with remote teams and it makes a great deal of difference when they get to see and talk to you. It’s often best to schedule a call so that the other party can be appropriately prepared and you dont want to catch them at a bad time e.g., when are eating food.
- Asynchronous & un-interrupting: Enable you to send a message out and expect a response back when the person processes the message.
- Time to think and craft it: Enables you to assimilate thoughts, choose the right words carefully and format it in a way that it gets read and easily responded to. This is extremely useful for people who are not good at speaking, poor at writing or just afraid of drafting an email.
- Low signal to noise ratio: Most business people get about 100 emails/day so the chance of getting read and responded to varies.
- Not private: Emails can get printed, fwded or sent to others. So, never expect privacy or share criticism and negative comments.
3. Chat (includes messenger systems like GoogleTalk, IRC etc.)
- Short and somewhat informal.
- Best suited for short Q&A which requires interaction.
- Interruption: You might be interrupting the other person.
- Lack of logging & tracking: You can overcome this by sending any summary/conclusion via email after the chat.
For this discussion meeting includes 2 things:
- Physical meetings including walking to someones desk.
- Conference calls: These are typically get complemented desktop sharing software to make this a meeting like experience. (via gotomeeting, webex or similar tools).
- Conquer distance & Build relations: This is usually good for connecting with your team or people who you are supervising. In addition remote people get be involved in discussions.
- A productive alternative to long email thread: Instead of exchanging and discussing over email it might be more productive to get people on the phone and have the conversation.
- Interruptions: If a one on one meeting is not schedule you could be interrupting.
- The quite ones don’t talk much : Often in group meeting the shy/quite ones tend not to talk. You can work around this if you have a good meeting facilitator who consciously includes all in the discussions.
- Not scalable: Having more than 8 people degrades the quality of interactive discussions unless the meeting is a a one sided presentation.
- Scheduling challenges: Getting a time-slot with people in various timezones to participate can be challenging.
5. Wiki/Collaboration space
- Great for building a shared knowledge base/resources or brainstorming.
- Extremely scalable: Tens, hundreds or people can work on the same space and add to it. This is typically impossible with other media.
- Fuzzy roles and responsibilities: Unless followed up by other media or documented clearly. This could lead to lack of engagement.
Over the last few years hybrid tools like campfire which integrate multiple medias and make collaboration better for teams are emerging. We should continue to try new techniques & media to communicate but, having a clear understanding of when a media works and breaks. This helps us be better communicators and enables us to get stuff done.