Let’s face it, in today’s world we have about a zillion different electronic means of communicating. I feel justified in making that assessment because I am of an age where I recall when email was a new-fangled thing. We get so used to being able to instantly message someone or shoot off a quick email that we forget that our voices are our most reliable and most accurate form of communication. Person-to-person communications are critical to everything that we do and it is vital that we choose the correct communications medium.
A Large Percentage of Communication is Non-Verbal
In 1972 Albert Mehrabian, a professor of Psychology at UCLA, did a study where he concluded that only 7% of communication was the actual words that were spoken. He further said that 38% was the feelings and attitudes towards the way the words were spoken and that the final 55% of the message was conveyed by the facial expression of the talker. The methods used to arrive at this conclusion have been widely disputed, but the basic conclusion that the words themselves are only a portion of what makes up an effective communication is widely agreed upon. So, if we are restricting ourselves to purely electronic means of communications where only the words are transmitted, we are limiting the completeness and understanding of our message.
Admit it, You Have Been There
Every one of us has had the same experience. We instant message with someone for an hour (or hours), or send a number of emails over a period of days, only to finally get frustrated, pick up the phone, and resolve the issue or answer the question in 5 minutes. With purely electronic communication methods you miss all of the valuable clues conveyed by tone of voice that might have eliminated hours of needless typing and frustration.
Been There, Done That
As a Lead Technical Consultant, I manage a group of software developers. Our development group is split between three (at the time) different facilities in three different states so we use Slack as one method of communicating. Several months ago I was monitoring a discussion between our developers on Slack about a code review. I watched the tone of the conversation get more and more negative the longer the discussion continued. It was obvious to me that if I let this continue we would end up with hurt feelings and a very negative impact on our group dynamics. I scheduled a group meeting where we all got on the phone and I implemented a new policy where code reviews had to be done by someone in a different state and results had to be delivered over the phone. As a result, understanding between our developers improved greatly as did our group cohesiveness.
Physician, Heal Thyself
I had a manager early in my career that gave me some very valuable advice. She said, “If you want to communicate something to someone else, face to face is best, a phone call is second, and email (all we had at the time) is a very distant third”. I expect that if we had this conversation again today she would add that instant messaging is an extremely distant fourth place. Instant messaging is just that, instant. Using instant messaging further limits the time we would normally spend formulating and editing our thoughts. It is up to you to recognize when you need to pick up the phone or pay someone a visit in person. Instant messaging and email are great, but recognize their limitations and recognize when they should not be used.