We have more ways to communicate than ever before. Our options include Email, Video Calls, Telephone, Instant Message (IM) and Face-to-Face. This amazing choice means most of us make hundreds of important decisions every day when we answer the question, “What option do I use?”
Each communication option has its strengths and weaknesses. And while our decision is often made unconsciously, the option we choose will always impact the relationships we build, our success as well as the success of the people and the projects around us.
So, let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of these popular communication options.
Email is great resource for non-urgent communication and is best used to share information or ask very specific questions. Email often offers the sender time to reflect on their key points and/or ask, structure their message so it’s easy to read and understand. And, because it’s not a ‘live discussion’ the writer should always take a moment to review and edit before pressing send.
Email is also very efficient because it allows the sender to write to many people at the same time, ensuring a wide audience receives a consistent message. Email is also a great resource because it allows files, documents and/or photos to be easily. At the same time, email creates a history which provides a history of topics discussed and decisions made.
For all its benefits, email does have its drawbacks. One of the greatest drawbacks is that email is only the written word. Because messages are void of important social cues like vocal inflection, body language and facial expressions, unless great care is taken messages are easily be misinterpreted as pushy, bossy, abrupt and rude. A writer’s intention can easily be misread based on the readers point-of-view. In addition, may people feel overwhelmed with the volume of email they receive resulting in late or no-responses and increased opportunities for stress and hurt relationships.
Other drawbacks are that email is not a great vehicle for generating discussion and fact finding. If you want a real creative solution, it’s best to be face-to-face or use the phone or video call. Then, once a decision has been made, recap the decisions in a detailed email. We must also be mindful that complicated or emotionally sensitive topics are better shared in person, by phone or by video call where empathy can easily be felt.
Even in this changing time email remains an important part of business and personal communication because of its security features and because it is virtually a free service and universally accessible.
Note: There may be a tendency to use emojis to support the mood you are trying to express. My professional opinion is that if you feel you need a smiling face emoji to demonstrate you mean well, you already know you should rewrite your message or pick up the phone or schedule a video call.
Video is about as close as we can get to being in person while working remotely. And, while face-to-face experiences will almost always have greater benefits, it’s safe to say video calls are terrific at helping to build rapport and trust.
Like in-person and telephone calls, video allows people to share experience and insight and to ask questions in real time. Video is also beneficial when new information is being shared since people learn faster and retain more when visual cues are added to our learning process. And because of the visual element some people will be more likely to participate in discussion than they may have if the conversation was only by phone.
Video, in-person and telephone calls all help participants quickly and accurately tell when others are being serious, funny, confused or a long list of other possible responses… something that email and IM do not do well.
Video calls are a great leadership / team building tool to help keep teams up to date that have both on-site and virtual members. For example, a 30-minute morning group video call will allow team members to hear a consistent message, share priorities, give project updates and/or ask the team for recommendations. From a service and support perspective, video calls with suppliers and customers often improve the engagement and build stronger, more personal and trusting relationships. This is especially true with people you are just meeting and/or getting to know.
From a talent acquisition or supplier perspective, when organizations adopt a ‘remote working culture’ video calls give leaders the ability to ‘hire the best’ versus ‘hire the best within 50kms’. This is a great boost to the ability to access important talent while also increasing employee satisfaction and loyalty.
If some of your team are in office and some of your team are remote, it’s recommended the meeting be held with everyone on video in order to provide a consistent feel to the meeting for everyone – otherwise, people who are remote often feel overlooked / forgotten.
A downside of video calls is that in most cases they take time to plan ahead, organize on the video platform and then share the call-in link (usually emailed). Simply put, video calls are not usually efficient solutions for quick questions or check-ins.
As more and more people work remotely the telephone is experiencing a resurgence in importance because it is easy to use, can connect with someone in seconds and virtually everyone has one. For these reasons, the phone is becoming the go-to-choice when we need a very quick answer– similar to how we might call over a partition to a colleague if we were both in the office.
An important thing to note is that many of us have become used to not answering our phones. This has to change, especially if we see incoming calls from trusted sources like our co-workers, suppliers or clients.
Because we can hear each other’s voice the phone feels more personal and therefore has a tendency to build trust more efficiently than email or IM; this makes telephone especially important for new relationships. The telephone also offers a great way to brainstorm / share complicated ideas quickly similar to video calls. Phone calls build stronger relationships, foster clear communication, which allows us to save time by getting the answers we need in real time.
In contrast to most video calls, telephone calls are non-intrusive as are email and IM. This is an important difference especially for people working from home who usually want some notice before being asked to join a video call.
Instant messages are terrific when people need to ask short, pithy, uncomplicated questions or send short, pithy, uncomplicated messages. Instant messaging is not recommended for formal conversations or if difficult information needs to be shared. But, like it’s written message cousin email, being written copy can easily mean a message is misunderstood and/or interpreted as pushy, bossy, abrupt and rude. If our message is complicated it’s recommended we find some way to speak with them.
Like telephones and email, IM is a widely accessible communication tool and is virtually free. It’s also easy to learn and easy to use. While historically IM has supported one-to-one communication, some platforms now provide enhancements like chat rooms, virtual whiteboards and screen sharing.
A challenge with IM is that it is difficult to search for past conversations and/or decisions. For this reason, it is recommended that any decisions made during an IM discussion are summarized and shared within an email environment.
It is almost unanimously agreed to have face-to-face conversations if possible …. and to then document any decisions using email. Face-to-face meetings or training events will always be enhanced by the ability for everyone to experience body language, facial expressions, vocal inflection as well as the ability to ask questions or provide support information in real-time.
Face-to-face shares many of the same benefits that video calls and telephone calls have including being important to help develop new relationships and brainstorm / share complicated ideas. And, I will always stress that we try to have face-to-face conversations when information is being shared that may upset or be disappointing to your audience.
How we communicate has a profound impact on what people understand, how well we all perform our work and the trust we build with each other. Poor communication can result in costly mistakes, loss of customers and low employee loyalty.
Take some time to recognize we have options and that whenever we can take advantage of engaging all five of our and our audiences’ senses, the more successful we will likely be.
About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce is an executive coach, corporate trainer and sought-after conference speaker. Mayhew specializes in soft skills like email etiquette training, leadership and new leadership development, motivation skills, generational differences, working from home consulting, difficult conversations training, change management and time management. Learn more about Bruce by visiting his website, Twitter and LinkedIn.