Communication has come a long way in just the last five years, and it continues to evolve as technology and social media evolve. For the modern businessperson, the sheer availability of mediums is staggering, but thrilling. For every instance of necessary communication, be it internal, external, important or fleeting, there's an appropriate form of messaging. However, it's all too easy to get lost in our own preferences, and forget how much impact our choice of medium can have on the interpretation of our messages.
Convenience Doesn't Always Mean Efficiency
Technologies tend to evolve in favor of convenience. Making a phone call from a dedicated landline was once the most convenient means of communication available--you could connect across the country in an instant! Today, you can send text messages, initiate calls, or even transmit video messages all on a single, mobile, handheld device. Each of us has personal preferences for communication based on what we feel is easiest--for example, some people have an easier time writing than speaking, and some people prefer meeting in person rather than the impersonality of text. But it's important to see beyond the limits of our own convenience.
The selection of a medium can have a drastic impact on both the efficiency of your communication and the interpretation of your message. In this article, we'll explore different communication mediums and assess their pros and cons.
Text-based communication is one of the most popular categories used. Emails, SMS text messages, social media interaction, and instant messaging programs are all widely used by companies to accelerate communication between parties. However, there are some limitations to text-based communication, so it's not always the most appropriate.
- It forces us to be concise. In texts and emails, there's no room for small talk or pleasantries, so your message gets right to the point.
- Your message is on the record. There's room for misinterpretation, but the original message can't be questioned--it's searchable, and available for reference by all parties involved.
- You can be precise. Writing things down forces us to think carefully about what it is we want to say. In many cases, that makes us more likely to be specific and write in detail.
- You can be organized. Text messages are somewhat more limiting, but in emails, it's easy to organize your message in a way that visually makes sense.
- Text carries no tone. Aside from emoticons, which are usually seen as unprofessional, there's no way to infuse subtext into your message. Any tone of voice or body language is instantly lost.
- Text can be misinterpreted. While it's also possible for vocal interaction to be misheard or misinterpreted, text is not a foolproof means of communication. One spelling error or one skip-over could ruin the effect your message is intended to have.
- It's impersonal. Some messages require compassion and sympathy in their delivery, and text simply doesn't have the same effect as a face-to-face meeting.
- There's no back-and-forth. In some cases this can be advantageous, but with text, there's no opportunity to open a group discussion. There is only a punctuated series of one-to-one responses.
Text is fast and precise, and it holds people accountable to their messages, but it's also impersonal and subject to interpretation. It's an excellent choice of medium, but only when your message is better served by being on the record than it is by being conveyed with emotion.
Voice calls are starting to become obsolete. Text messages are more concise, and video calls are more personal. Still, vocal interaction has a place for many people.
- It doesn't require much attention. Unlike text messages, which require a manual user input, or in-person meetings, which require full focus, phone calls give you more freedom. If you have a hands-free set, you can call while driving, saving time. If you're on a conference call, you can probably get away with multi-tasking.
- You can express inflection without worrying about body language. Voice carries tone much better than text messages, allowing you to inject humor or sympathy into your words without having to pay attention to your body language.
- Several people can connect simultaneously and remotely. Using conference calls, several people from all around the world can speak together at once.
- People speak over each other. With speech delays and few body cues, it's easy for people to clamor over each other, especially while on a conference line.
- There's no record. You can record phone calls, but it's much more difficult to find necessary information in a sound recording than searchable text.
- People aren't always easy to hear. Heavy accents, bad connections, and naturally low voices can all make phone communication more difficult.
Overall, phone calls are great for connecting several remote people at once, but the inefficiency of communication often makes in-person meetings or text messages better options.
Video calls are a significant alternative to in-person meetings, for when people want the experience of a face-to-face meeting, but can't geographically connect. Skype and FaceTime are two of the most popular video chat applications, but there are many options available.
- You can express body language without being in-person. Body language is important, especially when you're trying to build a relationship with another person, but sometimes, in-person meetings just aren't possible. Video calls are perfect for this.
- Video calls sometimes offer other options. For example, the Skype app allows you to simultaneously send files and communicate with text, so you can keep record of the conversation.
- Video calls use a lot of bandwidth. Depending on your network, it may have an impact on those around you.
- Bad connections can ruin everything. Again, this depends on your network, but it is a real risk to the medium. You don't want your client meeting to be cut short without warning.
- There's a threshold for effectiveness. Two people video chatting is more effective than twenty people trying it. Google Hangouts is trying to find a solution for this problem, but for now, the fewer the people involved, the better.
Video calls are a great substitute for an in-person meeting, but only if it's impossible to meet in person, you have a great connection, and there are only a handful of participants. Otherwise, you might end up frustrating more people than you end up informing.
In-person meetings have been the go-to for decades, and they're still highly effective--provided you have the ability to meet.
- Full body language and expression. This is as personal as you can get. Everybody has their tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, and personal charisma to work with during the conversation, helping everyone better understand each person's perspective.
- No interruptions. You never have to worry about bad connections or dropped calls.
- Fluid conversations. Unlike phone calls, where people tend to interrupt one another, physical meetings usually allow for a very smooth, interactive dialogue between many participants.
- People are everywhere. It's 2015, and people work together all around the world. It's hard--if not impossible--to get everyone you need gathered in one location at the same time.
- Record keeping is subjective. The only way to keep a record of the meeting is to write out notes--and that leaves room for personal interpretation.
- Timing is difficult. In-person meetings usually require every participant to block off a certain amount of time (say, an hour) for a meeting, even if some of those participants are only relevant for a portion of the conversation.
In-person meetings are still preferential if you're trying to build or maintain a relationship, but otherwise, they can be inefficient and inconvenient.
Making the Right Choice
Every situation is unique. It's almost impossible to select one communication medium that can support all your business needs. The most successful businesspeople of 2015 are going to be the ones who learn to master effective communication--not necessarily by improving their messages, but rather by improving the delivery of their messages. Use each medium to its greatest advantage, and you'll be able to get the most out of every conversation you have.