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Appropriate Communication

A former colleague of mine often talked about what he called “appropriate communication”. This didn’t mean whether to communicate or not, although we all know people who we wish would learn to get in touch a bit less frequently. What he meant was using the appropriate form of communication. This is something many of us are getting worse at, I fear.

Choosing the right way to contact people boils down to issues of efficiency, courtesy and confirmation. If you need to tell somebody something, and you need to know they got the message, you need to talk to them, either in person or by telephone. Emails, text messages or voicemails are not appropriate here, because you have no idea if the other person got the message. Even if you ask for confirmation they’ve got the message, how long do you give them? An hour? A week? By the time you realise they haven’t confirmed, it’s often too late. Generally, most of us are reluctant to telephone people nowadays, and we really shouldn’t be. Note however that if the message contains detail, you should back it up by email and not try to dictate data verbally, forcing the other person to scrabble around for something to write on.

If you’re asking somebody to do something for you, it’s important to inconvenience them as little as possible. Email may well be the most appropriate medium here, so that they can consider a response at their leisure. Sure, you don’t have confirmation they got the request, but as you’re the one wanting something done, it’s unlikely that you’ll forget they haven’t responded.

I’m not going to try to compile a list of the advantages, disadvantages and appropriateness here of all the different types of communications media we have available. If I do, I’ll run the risk of giving my opinion on people who waste hours on “text message conversations”, and then I’ll just get very irritated, like the grumpy old man I am. But suffice to say, next time you reach for the phone, or the email “write” button, think just briefly about whether or not this might be the best way of communicating, in terms of both efficiency and the other person’s convenience.

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