If you work in an office, you’ve multiple communication methods available to you. Whether it is a telephone, email, an Instant Messaging (IM) application, or face to face. Whatever you have available, knowing when to use each one is a skill worth learning.
The trouble is, that’s easier said than done. A lot depends on your office environment and traditions. I find it helps to answer a few simple questions before taking the leap.
Location! Location! Location!
If the person you want to communicate with is located two desks from you, it can be more effective to just speak to them. If it is urgent, you should say so, and give them some background information in order for them to make an informed decision about whether it is OK to interrupt them. Just because you have interrupted them, doesn’t make it the best time for them. Perhaps start with, “Can you spare me some time to discuss …..”. If they can help, they should be willing to accommodate. If they can’t, you can agree a time when they can.
If they’re not located nearby but in the same office location, you can still adopt this approach. It’s good to get out of your seat and walk around occasionally too. Of course a lot depends on time management. If every time you needed something you walked to the lift and took it to the 10th floor to speak to someone, you’ve questions to ask yourself about your time management.
Things get more complicated still with larger firms. For example I lead a team based in London, but with a manager based in the USA. I deal with individuals on a daily basis spread across different time zones. Getting information from someone who’s still asleep or out for the evening is near impossible. This is where the next question arises.
Everything is urgent, right?
In today’s modern competitive world, corporate environments often see results as the major success factor. This is true in some roles, but mostly it isn’t. Knowing the urgency of the communication, and what you expect someone to do something for you, is key here.
If it really is urgent and the person you want to communicate isn’t free, what then? Could you wait until they are free? Could someone else help who is available? Only if the answer to both these questions is a definitive “No” should you continue.
Even if you think it is urgent, a second opinion can prove invaluable. You may absolutely need some information to make your target of getting a task complete by this Friday, but if you don’t complete it until Monday would the overall project fail? It is rare for deadlines to be definitively set in stone that there isn’t some flexibility. Go and talk to someone.
What’s the objective?
Finally understanding why you need to communicate with them in the first place is important. Ask yourself all the following questions, not just one:
- Is it to get information, or provide it?
- Do you need to communicating with one or multiple people?
- Do you need to share some information live with them (e.g. presentations, demos)?
- Where are they located?
Having the answers to these will help you understand the best communication method.
My Pet Hates
Before I sign off, here are a few of my communication pet hates:
- Don’t email me and a minute later come over and ask me why I haven’t responded. If you need an urgent response, email isn’t the way to go.
- Don’t assume that just because you need to respond to a communication, that everyone else who received it needs to receive your response. If I receive a message sent to 20 people informing me of someone’s promotion (i.e. useful information) I don’t want to receive 19 responses offering personal congratulations to that individual (i.e. not at all useful).
- Don’t substitute an IM application for email. This is perhaps more of a generational issue, but younger folk are used to getting instant responses. It’s the social media effect, but in an office environment it doesn’t always work. IM applications can be useful, but they aren’t an email alternative.
- Companies with more than one IM application. If that is you, don’t spam them all. Think about which one the recipient is likely to use. If you don’t know, use face to face and ask them for next time.
- Don’t use email or instant messaging to have a discussion. Sometimes what starts off as a simple question sent to multiple recipients snowballs into a discussion with an ever increasing recipient list. Stop right there. Organize a meeting or conference call with the key recipients, and agree a way forward.
This post deliberately doesn’t try to tell you to use a specific communication tool. There is no hard and fast rule. It gets you to step back and calculate the most effective tool to meet your objective. Oh and remember, what met your requirements this morning, may not be suitable this afternoon.