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Meiss Education Institute

Communication Systems: Making the Most of Phone and Electronic Communications
By Rich Meiss

Improving Organizational Results through Effective Communication-  Article 4

In addition to interpersonal, face-to-face communications, our interactions with other human beings are impacted by other forms of communications, including written, phone and electronic.  Because of the proliferation of electronic means of communications today, the use of memos and letters is almost a lost art.  But the principles that informed good written communications are transferable to most forms of electronic communications.  This article will focus on how to make these communication “systems” work most effectively for us.

A critical factor in the effective use of electronic communications is knowing when NOT to use them.  Most communication professionals today agree that there are certain times when voicemail and/or email is very effective, and there are definitely times when they are ineffective.

When NOT to Use Voicemail or Email

Voicemail is limited to our words and our voice tone (7% words and 38% voice tone equates to only 45% of the impact of our communication being accounted for over the phone).  Email is limited to our words (only 7% of the impact of our communications is attributable to words).  Therefore, when it is imperative that the full complement of our communication is used (7%- words, 38% voice tone, and 55% non-verbals), it is best to use face-to-face communications.  These situations include the following.

1)     When there are strong emotions involved.  Anytime there is communication that involves change, confrontation, bad news, or other strong emotions, it is best to deliver this face-to-face.  The combination of words, voice tone and body language correctly used allows the communicator to be certain to get across the intended message.  Although it is tempting to deliver these kinds of messages electronically and thus avoid any confrontation, in the long run it is best to deliver them face-to-face and deal with any fallout directly.

2)     When a dialogue would be useful.  When there is major change happening in an organization or on a team, it is best to deliver this information in person. This allows participants the chance to share feelings and ask questions, and creates a much better chance for a successful communication outcome.  Another situation where dialogue would be helpful is when important information is being shared that may require clarification.  By allowing for questions and discussion, the assurance of understanding and acceptance is much higher than one-way communications.

3)     When you are giving corrective feedback.

If a manager is giving corrective feedback to a subordinate, it is best to do this in person.  This allows the employee the opportunity to ask questions, defend himself/ herself, or share his/her feelings about the feedback.  The manager again has the full complement of communication tools to deliver the message in the way that it was intended (words, voice tone and body language).

4)      When you are delivering a highly technical message.  When there is technical or complex information to be presented to a group, it is often better done in person than via electronic communications.  Actually, a combination of both can work well in this situation.  People can read a document that contains the critical information, and then gather to ask questions and clarify what they don’t understand.

For any of the above-mentioned situations, it is better to deliver this communication in person.  There are times when electronic communication is the correct choice, however. 

Use email for the following situations:

 - When you want to deliver a consistent message to several or   many people
- When the information is factual and straightforward – not prone to confusion
- When people are geographically dispersed, not able to get together face-to-face
-  When your time is limited

Use voicemail for the following situations

- When you cannot deliver a message in person
- When you want the power of your voice tone along with your words to communicate the message
- When you are communicating with only one person and want to make it more personal
- When you have a private message you don’t want others to hear

Key Principles for Voice and Electronic Communications

1)      Identify the subject of your communication.  In email, put the topic of your communication in the subject line.  Let people know up front what the purpose of the email is.  And do the same in voicemail – after identifying yourself, state right up front the purpose of the call.  

This courtesy step allows the participant the opportunity to decide right away how much time and attention they want to give to your voicemail/email.

2)      Tell the receiver what action/response you are requesting, by when.  Be clear in communicating what response is required from the receiver.  Do I need to send back a response?  Is there an action I need to take?  When does this need to be done?  If these questions are answered early on, it allows the receiver to determine how much time he/she needs to spend listening to or reading the entire message.

3)     Give the receiver just enough details, plus reference options.  Give the key information details – just enough and no more – to allow the receiver to do what is needed.  And for those who like information, let them know where they can go to get more details, reports, etc.  In written communications, use bullet points for key details rather than a long list of text.  This makes it easier to read and respond.

4)     Let the receiver know how to contact you.  Pass along your contact information:  in person, by phone, and over email.  Make it easy for the receiver to contact you if they have questions or need clarification or more information.  On the phone, say your name and phone number slowly and clearly.

5)     Only communicate with those directly affected.  Avoid sending emails to the entire department just to cover yourself.  Pick out those with the “need to know” and send the message to them only.  And avoid hitting “reply all” in email, unless it is imperative that everyone sees your response.  All of us can relate to the example of receiving an email invitation with an RSVP requested, only to then get responses back from 20 of the 30 people saying “Yes, I’ll be there”.  

Although none of these principles are rocket science, they are common sense tips that will make our communication systems work for us – not against us.  Best wishes as you utilize these ideas in your own life!


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