Sticky e-Situations

If you are anything like me, you are spending more and more hours in the workday at your computer. Perhaps, you are out and about but sending and receiving messages via your hand-held device. Communication in today’s work world goes beyond the face-to-face interactions or even the telephone contacts of the past.
We zip off more and more emails and texts than ever before. David Shipley and Will Schwalbe in their book, Send, tell us that the Bush Administration turned over 100 million emails to the National Archives in contrast to 33 million from the Clinton Administration in 2001. Most of us don’t need statistics to tell us how much we depend on email to conduct our daily businesses. In fact, a large telecommunications company initiated a weekly “no email” day similar to the “casual” Fridays. At first the staff balked, but after the first day, they enjoyed not having to deal with email. In a poignant example, one staff member contacted another by telephone. During their conversation, they realized that they worked in the same facility; and after a bit longer time, they realized that they sat a few cubicles away from one another. These realizations demonstrate for us that we have become overly reliant on email and other electronic communication.
Before we step back and examine the sticky situations that evolve from the email explosion, we must look at when it is appropriate to email and when another form of communication serves us better. In addition to examining email in this fashion, we must also consider Instant Messages (IM’s), text messaging, and all other forms of e-communication.
One of the biggest problems with e-communication is the “send” button. As soon as you hit that button, you cannot turn back. Furthermore, e-communication prevents us from judging a reaction to our message. Via countless nonverbal messages, we pass along our feelings and the underlying intent of the communication. When we say to a colleague, “The boss should see this report,” do we mean should, meaning the boss needs to see it, but don’t send it for goodness sakes! Or, do we mean, he should get the report, and yes send it, like, now! Are we joking? Are we being sarcastic? Are we deeply affected? We cannot convey any of these feelings through e-communication where our world gem codes cheats online the risk of misunderstanding skyrockets. Yet, more and more of us are writing notes to colleagues, clients, subordinates, and bosses and expecting those one-way communication notes to convey meaning.
How can we take advantage of the amazing convenience of e-communication and avoid the risks of miscommunication?
Choosing the right kind of communication
When we look at communication of all types, we must evaluate the medium in which we communicate. In the past we had fewer choices, namely face-to-face, telephone, or written letter. For years people wondered about the best time to use each of these media. Clearly, when we had something urgent to convey or when we wanted to make our message particularly personal, we chose a face-to-face interaction. When the message was less personal, we moved down the continuum to telephone communication and finally to the least personal, the business letter. After years of struggle, that is, where we sent letters when we should have called or where we called when we should have communicated face-to-face, we finally figured it out.
Today, however, we have many more choices and those sheer numbers add to the confusion around what to do when. For example, a letter no longer seems impersonal. In fact, because we get so few letters or hand-written notes, we take notice when one comes across our desk. We appreciate the time it takes to actually put a letter in an envelope and attach a stamp. These efforts suggest something much more meaningful than it did in the past. The telephone call, which used to be more impersonal, has become an “interaction.” Indeed, we’ve reached a new crossroads in communication where we must decide on a medium for our message not based on convenience alone but based on purpose and intent.
When to use e-communication
• When communicating with a large group of people.
• When communicating simple, direct, clear facts, e.g., “The meeting is at the main entrance to the hospital at 5 o’clock.”
• When only one or two responses will give you an answer; not when trying to reach a complex decision.
• When communicating across continents or great distances. (Although telephone services, such as, Skype, have become so inexpensive, that phone contacts, too, can be an alternative to email if distance is the only obstacle.)
• When setting up a telephone appointment or a face-to-face appointment.
• When including a link to an article or blog you think someone might enjoy reading.
• When you do not want to interrupt the other person. For example, when the other person is in a more information meeting, on an airplane, attending a wedding or funeral or otherwise unavailable by telephone.
Texting and IM’s
• Texting is a great alternative to cell phone conversations in public. Who wants to listen to you set up your big presentation or purchase your car?
• When you need an instant response. But, how often do you really need an instant response? Here are some examples where an instant response might be necessary: you are lost and need to get to an important meeting; your flight was cancelled and you need to contact others before they depart their cities; documents were not received; you need to locate your teenage daughter.
• When you know the other person is unavailable by email or cell phone and it’s the best way to send a short message.
• When your boss refuses to communicate in any way except texting.
As we wrestle with the appropriateness of which form of communication to employ when, we find ourselves facing more and more confusing, sticky e-situations. The next time, before you hit that send button, ask yourself, ?Is this the best way for me to communicate??