Communication’s simple, right? You have something to say and you say it. Easy!
Well, not quite, writes Enterprise Nation editor Simon Wicks
. Even when you know what you want to say and how you should say it (take a look at Lola Bailey’s Five tips for effective communication
for advice), you have another question to answer: what medium should you use to deliver your message? Email? Phone? A face-to-face meeting?
Nowadays, we’re spoilt for choice with the number of communication channels available to us and the ease with which many of them can be used. And here lies a potential dilemma: just because it’s easier to send an email than to pick up the phone or arrange a face-to-face meeting, that doesn’t mean it’s the most appropriate medium for your message.
Communication channels: From lean to rich
We can see our communication channels as being on a sliding scale from ‘lean’ (short, simple, one-way messages) to ‘rich’ (complex, interactive communication). So, for example, at one end of the scale we’d have a marketing text – that’s very lean. At the other, we’d have some form of face-to-face communication where you’re engaging in a conversation, can hear tone of voice and read expressions and body language – all of which are important facets of communication.
You could even make a list that would look something like this (going from lean to rich):
- Faxes (does anybody still use fax??)
- Facebook messages/LinkedIn messages/other forums
- Other forms of instant messaging
- Telephone conversations
- Video conferencing (one to one)
- One-to-one face-to-face meetings
- Group meetings
Different channels are appropriate for different levels and types of communication. For example, if you’re simply sending someone a quote they’ve requested, you probably don’t need to speak to them directly – an email would be fine. But if you want to discuss the quote in detail, then a phone call might be the best thing – it enables negotiation and reinforces your personal credibility.
Likewise, if you’re discussing a supplier or employee’s performance, then it’s best not to do it by text. But it might be ok to tell them of a revised meeting time by text or voicemail.
Convenience vs effectiveness
This may all seem very straightforward, but in our busy lives we’ll often go for the quick and easy solution, rather than the best solution. Before sending any kind of communication, it’s worth considering these three elements of your communication:
1. The message itself.
Tip: think about the level of credibility you need your message to achieve and the level of trust required. A personal meeting, for example, is far away the most credible form of communication- certainly more so than email. Research by Gregory Northcraft, a professor of executive leadership at the University of Illinois, showed that trust erodes over time or can’t even be created in the first place, if communication only takes place over email and phone, where some of the elements of personal interaction like eye contact and body language are removed. In Northcraft’s study, the quality of these working relationships declined to the point where people stopped working together effectively.
2. Your audience.
- Is it simple or complex, lean or rich?
- Is it a one-way communication or one that requires dialogue?
- Do you need an immediate response?
- Is there an emotional element attached to the message (eg, is there a negotiation involved/are you responding to a complaint)?
- Do you need a permanent record?
Tip: someone may be a good distance away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them face-to-face. Modern videoconferencing allows you to have ‘rich’ relationships with suppliers and contacts who might be on the other side of the world. Use affordable technology to broaden your business horizons.
3. The stage your relationship is at with your audience.
- Are they a customer, a supplier, a colleague, a potential partner?
- Are they a consumer or representing a business?
- What position do they occupy within their organisation?
- Are you talking to one person, a few people, or many?
- How old are they? This may be important – young people, for example, tend to be more comfortable with very informal means of communication.
- Where are they? In the same building, the same town, the same country?
Tip: Don’t be over-familiar. Even if you have a very cordial relationship with the person you’re communicating with, it is still a business relationship.
- Is it a new relationship or an established one?
- Is it a formal or informal relationship?
- Are you looking to build a long-term relationship – or is this a one-off piece of business?
Thinking through these three things should lead you towards the appropriate channel or channels for a particular communication. And remember – whatever your message and whatever the medium, always be clear, straightforward and say exactly what you mean.
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