How We Communicate in the Electronic World

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Which combination of communications helps you function best in your day-to-day work and personal life? Which communications are easy, accurate and which ones are you most likely to both use and respond?

Today, most people utilize three or four forms of communication in their daily lives. Some people arrive at their places of employment and spend several hours sifting through and responding to e-mail. Others may be playing back phone mail messages while some may be reviewing their paged messages. Do you go to your in-box to check your U.S. mail and what has been faxed to you? What do you check first; e-mail, voice mail, U.S. mail and what purposes do each of these modes of communication serve throughout your daily lives?

For many of us, it has to do with our comfort level of talking on the phone, our busy schedules, and the quality of the electronics we have. For example, if I know that I will be on the phone with someone who will extend a three-minute conversation into a dissertation, then I would generally try to establish an e-mail relationship. On the other hand, if someone is not explicit or detailed enough in their e-mail communications, then I would prefer speaking with them on the phone. Of course, if I need to get important documents signed or if I want to personalize a thank you note then the U.S. mail would be the choice of communication.

Today, we must carefully determine the correct mode of communication for the relationships that we have and are trying to begin or enhance. Why? Because impulsively choosing a certain way to communicate can lead to disastrous personal relationships and loss of business, as well. For business relationships, I will ask people how frequently they utilize and check their e-mail. If it is less than every day, I would be concerned about communicating important information in that way. We can never assume that others check their e-mail several times a day when it turns out they check it once a week. And those assumptions must extend beyond our borders. France is not into email and they may only check it every few weeks. Don’t dare to pull an Italian or Spanish citizen away from a cell phone. And many businesses, especially banks, still make the fax as the primary source of business arrangements.

Email lost in cyberspace is especially at risk. I constantly have to check my spam and bulk filters to make sure an important email response did not land in the trash. And if someone does not reply, those emails may not bounce back as “undeliverable” – they can just vanish. So one must follow up by phone or fax if a second sent email again has no response.

The same holds true for voice mail. We need to determine how frequently individuals check for their messages. Is your message on your voice mail accurate? Do you update it if you expect to be out of the office for significant periods of time? Is it reliable? Can you receive inter-office communications on your voice mail and is that utilized effectively within your work environment?

If you possess a pager and give that number out for others to contact you, are you responsive in a timely manner? If you call back an hour or two later on pages that you receive is that ok or might it negatively reflect on your credibility? Would a cellular phone be more appropriate?

Cellular phones come in all shapes, sizes, digital, analog, and voice activation. When do you have it on? Will it record all messages when it is turned off? Do you keep it off during important meetings, jury duty, funerals, movies or must you be accessible all of the time? Can you check you cellular voice mail in a timely manner as well as messages at your home or office site?

For those of us that have the technology, videoconferencing is another form of communication. I utilize this for meetings with distant locations so that I won’t have to fly to see them, yet we can talk face-to-face in real time to conduct the business that we would otherwise have to travel significant distances.

The following questions need to be asked when choosing your form of communications and what combination you will utilize with others:

  1. What does the other person like to use?
  2. How often do other check their messages?
  3. How do others prefer to communicate?
  4. What frequency do others like to talk with you?
  5. Are other more verbal or auditory communicators?
  6. How quick do you need to get feedback on issues or information?
  7. Do you need to have an actual physical presence?
  8. How technical or non-technical are those that you are communicating with?
  9. Do you or your remote contant have videoconfrencing capabilities?

These are just some of the issues in the use of today’s communication devices. Whichever mode you use, it is important to be clear in your message and for you to be sensitive of the comfort level of others. Make no assumptions on the frequency that others check their messages and always be sure to be responsive to their communication devices.

Also, make sure that your business cards reflect all of your numbers including your regular phone number, cellular phone number, pager, e-mail address and web site.

Courtesy and politeness are essential and often forgotten. Being too abrupt could be offensive and being vague lends itself to confusion. Some people will feel infringed upon when they are engulfed in a project or a time sensitive task. We must remember that the person we are seeking to communicate with is always more important than ourselves and our immediate needs.

Many wish to go back to the slow food movement rather than fast food. The fast pace of conducting business as quickly as possible keeps the soul lagging behind. When was the last time you leisurely talked to a friend on the phone without making an appointment to speak together within a certain start and stop time frame? When was the last time you wrote a real letter with handwriting and fountain pen ink? At the end of the day, what do people remember, the last e mail, a hug or a friend’s warm voice? Beware lest this highly technological world steal the soul.