In the modern world, we have access to hundreds of different communication mediums. On the surface, this seems like a good thing--having more options means more efficient routes of communicating and more options for different situations. But these mediums are only effective if we use them the way they were intended to be used.

Each platform has distinct advantages and disadvantages, useful in some situations more than others. For example, text messages are ideal to inform a group about an urgent change, while email is better for relaying non-urgent, one-way information. If you don't cater to those strengths and weaknesses, your messages could wind up being misinterpreted, failing to convey your original message, or serve as more of a distraction than necessary.

But how can you know if you're using these mediums incorrectly or inefficiently?

Most Common Medium Mistakes

These are some of the most common--and most egregious--ways that professionals misuse communication mediums in their daily lives:

  1. Using emails for urgent requests. Even though the modern workplace increasingly demands workers to check their email regularly, and even though emails are sent instantly, you can't reasonably expect your recipient to get your message immediately--even during normal work hours. If you're using email for an urgent request, you could be wasting time, especially since you won't know whether or not your recipient has even seen your message. Instead, opt for a faster means of connection, like text, chat, or phone call.

  2. Using emails for ongoing conversations. Most platforms, like Gmail, offer ways to view all the emails related to one subject in a "conversation" so you can better keep track of the discussion. However, using emails for conversations longer than a message or two is inefficient. Email is a way to deliver information to a destination; if you need to hash something out or if you have questions that require a dialogue, there are better mediums for back-and-forth discourse, such as instant messaging, phone calls, or an in-person conversation. You can use email to recap the conversation if necessary.

  3. Texting at inappropriate times. Your employees may all have company phone plans, but that doesn't give you license to text them at inappropriate hours. Everyone needs a break from work, and getting a message at 9 p.m. about an assignment is a good way to sabotage that all-too-important "relax" time. If something's urgent and there's no other choice, this is permissible, but try to limit your texting to normal business hours during weekdays.

  4. Texting non-urgent information. Unless you're on personal terms with the person you're texting, avoid using text messaging for conveying of information that's non-urgent. For example, if you're trying to start a conversation, consider using chat or a phone call, which will allow for faster and easier-to-read communication between two parties. If you have a lot of information to relay, consider using email. Text messaging is too inconvenient to be used as a standard means of communication--especially when there are so many options.

  5. Using conference calls for multi-person meetings. As this parodic "Conference Call in Real Life" video demonstrates, conference calls are almost always terrible. Sound quality is usually an issue, people have no body language to gauge tone or respond appropriately, and delays can make people talk over each other. If you need to have a phone conversation, limit your participants. If you need multiple participants, opt for a group chat or a similar method that keeps everyone involved more clearly.

  6. Using team chats to relay lots of information at once. Team chats are a great tool for having quick conversations or for speaking as a group when an in-person meeting isn't an option. It's also ideal for non-urgent conversations, as it doesn't draw people away from their tasks immediately. However, it's not an ideal way to relay lots of information at once, such as going over the scope of a new project. If it's one-sided information, email is ideal; otherwise, it may be better to hold an in-person meeting.

  7. Holding inefficient in-person meetings. In-person meetings can be valuable for collaborative brainstorming and reconnecting your team on a key issue or project, but in most cases, they're massive time-wasters. If you're going to have an in-person meeting, be sure to adhere to best practices, such as maintaining a strict time limit, having an agenda in advance, inviting only the necessary people to the meeting, making sure everyone participates, and sending out a follow-up "recap" email to point out key action items and takeaways. Don't let your meetings kill your employees' productivity.

Balancing Advantages and Disadvantages

There isn't a single communication medium that's useful in all situations. Every method of communication has weaknesses and can cause problems when used. The way to become an effective communicator, then, is to learn how to use each medium appropriately and balance those strengths and weaknesses against each other. Avoid over-relying on any one medium, and instead, improve your skill sets in multiple areas, switching as circumstances demand.

Published on: Nov 10, 2016