As the new year approaches, I am making a pledge to communicate more thoughtfully. Why? In the digital world in which we live, it has become too easy to send emails, tweets, and texts. Upon reflection, I have been too haphazard about how I communicate with my colleagues, customers, friends, and family. Often times, an email about a problem should have been a phone call. And sometimes a phone call should have been an in-person meeting.
Knowing what to say and when to say it is not enough. In the modern day, we must decide HOW to communicate.
Consider the Five Levels of Communication:
Level 1: Message into the Ether
Snail mail and email have a few things in common: They can be of any length, and they are not conversational. Emails and letters are sent out, and then new messages are composed and returned. Sometimes it takes days or weeks before a response arrives. Since emails and letters are not conversational (they lump all points together rather than go point, counterpoint, point, etc…), there is a HIGH LEVEL of misunderstanding with this medium of communication. As many of us know, little issues can escalate over email.
Level 2: Back-and-Forth Messaging
Whether it is via an instant messaging system or by text, the next level of communication is conversational. As points go back and forth, there is a more casual exchange that is also more direct. Misunderstandings are less likely because each message is quick and each participant can detect if they were misunderstood by the reply.
Level 3: A Verbal Dialog
In a verbal exchange, participants get to voice their opinions and relay a whole new level of data through their inflection. Inflection reveals elements like frustration, annoyance, and stress that are harder to detect in written communication. One major drawback is that verbal discussions often require scheduling. But, as my colleagues can attest, when a customer is upset I believe it is best to just pick up the phone and discuss it!
Level 4: The In-Person Spontaneous Discussion
When something important comes up, you might decide to just drop by a colleague’s desk and start talking. Such spontaneous discussions are often more effective than messages and phone conversations. The benefits of visually seeing each other will add a whole new level of mutual understanding to the discussion. Of course, there are numerous detriments to this level of communication. The fact that others are likely in the vicinity makes it less intimate, and spontaneity doesn’t work for everyone.
Level 5: The In-Person Scheduled Discussion
Planning an in-person discussion allows both participants to think about the topic in advance. The communication that ensues is the most dynamic possible. Inflection and visual cues allow you to gather non-verbal intelligence to ensure clarity. Privacy ensures comfort. Of course, a scheduled discussion doesn’t necessarily mean that it is formal. I will often plan an important conversation to address a concern over breakfast or lunch. What makes this level of communication so sacred is the mutually agreed upon time set aside for direct discussion.
After understanding the five levels of communication, you can start to decide which level is most appropriate for particular situations. With so many options, you are liable to choose the path of least resistance rather than focus on your objective and which level of communication will help you achieve it.
Join me in a new year’s resolution to communicate more thoughtfully!
***This article is based on research by Behance CEO
***This article is based on research by Behance CEOScott Belsky, whose book, Making Ideas Happen, will be published by Penguin in April 2010. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the 99% productivity think thank, the Action Method project management application, and the Creative Jobs List.