Some of us are born communicators. We love to talk. Love to share. We might generalize these people as “extroverts.” Then we have the labeled “introverts” who often prefer to keep to themselves. They share best in smaller audiences. If you’re into the currently in vogue enneagram discussion, you’re aware that there is a huge, and actually very old, body of research around personality types/temperaments and how understanding the differences between us makes us better able to, among many other things, communicate effectively. But, no matter the enneagram type, the temperament, the organization, the generation, or the like, I believe there are some universal communication strategies from which we can all benefit.
Keep Your Audience In Mind
When drafting a document, email, flyer or any written message, consider your audience. Think through your reason for the communication and perhaps make an outline. Stay on topic and avoid making the correspondence too long. Opt for two (or more) separate message elements if you have a lot to cover. As a general rule, we’re advised to write on a fifth- grade level in order to best get our point across. Additionally, and to some this may seem obvious, you want to avoid using internal acronyms with an external audience. Your corporate or trade alphabet soup of abbreviations is not going to make sense to someone outside the loop.
Use Smart Email Strategies
As I’ve discussed in the past, email has become an enormous part of our modern communication. To maximize productivity and avoid confusion and frustration, I counsel my clients on a handful of email strategies that can make a real difference.
- The best tip I have for email is to make sure everyone is following the same set of email “rules” or guidelines. Setting expectations for responding to messages, drafting emails, and retaining emails is important for better communication.
- For example, when drafting an email, put the responsible party in the “To” field; avoid responsibility ambiguity. And, “cc” those you want to keep in the loop. Be discerning with your “cc” list; ask yourself who needs to be in the know, who will benefit from the information, etc.
- When you are beginning a new discussion within an email chain, change the subject line. This will avoid confusion for the reader. It will also make it easier for someone to find the email to reference at a later date.
- You may feel you’re gaining points in the kindness department, but replying in an email with a simple “thank you” is not doing anyone a favor. It only serves to add to an already overwhelming volume of email. Of course, there may be a special time and place when a kind word of appreciation is appropriate. But, as a general rule, avoid sending “thank you” as the sole content of an email.
- Related to the above bullet is the “Got it” or “OK” or “Received” response. However, sometimes it is necessary to send a confirmation to say, “Yes, I have received your message and I will respond by XXX date.” This acknowledges receipt and acceptance of a task. It also serves as a way to set an expectation of when the work will be completed.
And then we have texting…. I can remember this mode of communication emerging, and thinking it was something for the kids to use. But, texting is now a staple of business and personal communication for all ages. I do caution you to keep text messages short, with need-to-know type information only. When too much information, that will likely need to be referenced in the future, is spread out between text and email, locating the needed information can become a source of real frustration. “Why can’t I find this in my email?” “Did he text me that?” “Where is it??” We have all been there.
Millennials and younger are most apt to prefer texting. And, those introverts I mentioned earlier might find most comfort in a text-only conversation. To some of us, in fact, nothing is more frustrating than when someone calls when the conversation was moving along just fine via text. And yet, truth be told, if you are conversing in depth or at length on something, it makes sense to get on the phone and talk. It can save boatloads of time. It increases the likelihood of collaboration. And, I’d argue, it can better endear parties to one another.
Consider the Lack of Body Language
When texting and emailing, keep in mind that these modes of communication eliminate the value inherent to body language and tone of voice, which can be a very informative component to interpersonal dialogue. With written language, you are unable to read a face for signs of confusion or agreement. It is harder for some someone to understand when you are making a joke, or to realize if you are angry or being sarcastic, etc. (This is one reason emojis have taken up a happy home in our language!) Your choice of words with written modes of communication can take on greater importance with some topics.
One way to get the value of body language without being face-to-face is through the use of video conferencing. Video conferencing conserves time and gas by eliminating the commute. It enables individuals spread out geographically to convene in a virtual format, with the benefits of face-to-face, personable communication. There are many simple, free video conferencing platforms out there. Zoom is one of my favorites.
Face-to-Face Is Worth It
I’m not about to argue against all this fantastic technology we have to choose from when we need to communicate. I cannot imagine living during the telegraph, or worse, the carrier pigeon, eras. But, if there is one thing I’ve learned, it is to never underestimate the value of in-person, real life interaction. Walk over to their desk from time to time. Schedule that lunch date you’ve had in mind. Hold a well-thought-out, agenda-bound, in-person meeting. Put some action behind that, “See ya soon” you put at the closing of your written correspondence. It’ll pay off.
Sara Genrich is an Organization and Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop. She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.