Hi Readers, Welcome back.
WhatsApp, Slack, Gmail, email, Apple mail, Thunderbird, Telegram.
There are a lot of ways to communicate these days and a lot of ways to make things very, very confusing. But never fear, we’re here to help you with that. We’ve distilled a framework together from some research that we did, and we wanted to understand that yes, it’s not just what you say these days, but it’s how you say it and we’ve come up with one very simple rule. One rule, to rule them all.
The more complex your message, the less technology you should use. More complex, less technology. So, what do we mean by the level of technology?
Well, over on the right side of the spectrum, we have all the devices that we’re used to today. We have mobile devices. We have apps. We have email, then we have less technologically savvy devices in the middle, such as writing a letter or even meeting a person and then we can go all the way back to the earliest forms of communication, maybe speaking or even smoke signals. If they go in this direction, it’s an utter failure.
Let’s imagine Lisa for our communication illustration, she’s working for a company which is going to do great. The problem is she was up late last night, she didn’t do the deck. She didn’t finish the deck and she slept in this morning. So, she’s got a couple choices. She must ask someone to help her. The only person that can help her finish this deck is her boss. So, what does she do?
Lisa chose to text her boss, because she was already late, and it was very urgent. My God, I need to text her as soon as possible, immediately, now. So, here are the messages she sends. Are you able to read? So, if you were her boss, can you understand? How would you respond to her? Same as you guys, her boss got very confused. was texting the best way to communicate in this message? Well, it’ll work in some ways. It is quick in emergencies and is very convenient.
You just need to grab your phone and finish the texting in minutes. How it worked? It did not work well, because long messages are very hard to read and very easy to misinterpret. And her boss with a very busy schedule can be distracted by anything else at any time and in some companies, texting can be very unprofessional.
It depends on the culture of the company and the relationship between you and your boss. Lisa could have emailed or called her boss. So, if you are going to text, remember, keep it simple. A complex text will leave them perplexed. Sadly, that’s not going very well for Sarah. She’s got a big day today. Not only does she have this presentation that she just might have totally screwed up, but she also must do something else today. She must fire the intern. Now it’s not just any intern, sounds easy. What about if the intern’s your CEO’s brother’s husband’s nephew? There’s a connection there. So, she has another couple things to do. The problem with this intern is that this intern never shows up on time and sometimes doesn’t show up at all. She’s been ordered to fire the intern today and the intern didn’t show up. So, what does she do?
Lisa chooses to email the intern. Look at the message. Put yourself in the shoes of Michael B Arbuckle and imagine receiving this message. How does that land on you? Well, she uses a cold and neutral subject line termination. She uses the royal with throughout her message. She tries to soften it by including the salutation regretfully and a frowny face emoticon.
But regretfully, you can read that in multiple ways depending on how the relationship between Mike and Lisa is like. Maybe that’s a very sincere and heartfelt regret or maybe it’s a very sarcastic regret. It’s hard to read. In terms of what worked with this email, it was concise. She was direct and she structured it logically. But in terms of what didn’t work, this was a one-sided message as all emails are. She has no ability to gauge the intern’s reaction and to adapt, accordingly. And in terms of what we said earlier and what we saw with regretfully, there are just many ways to interpret the message of this.
In fact, Research shows that we are much worse at delivering tone by email than we think. In a published study, scientists had subjects deliver a message that was either serious or sarcastic in tone and they did this either via email or phone. If they did it either by email or phone, they thought that their accuracy in delivering the intended message would be about 80%. But when they did it by phone, it was actually pretty good.
It was 70%. However, with email, it was only 56%. That’s hardly better than a coin flip. So, if I can leave you with one takeaway here to learn from Sarah, to convey tone, pick up the phone. Well, that’s two down. There was an email. There was a text.
Like I said, she has a big day today. She’s not really doing very well, the reason, when she slept in late this morning, it kind of screwed up the whole day. It set all the hours back, she has a job interview today not going very well and she can’t go to this job interview in person. She’s got to figure out what to do about that.
Lisa chooses to take the job interview over the phone. This is totally normal. This is what the employer recommended. But when she hangs up, she doesn’t quite know how she did. She thinks it went fine, but she doesn’t know whether she’s going to get a callback or any of the feedback that the interviewer may have had for her.
So, why did she do that? Well, phone interviews are generally accepted these days. I’m sure that we all had a lot of first round phone interviews when we first got to know companies. It’s quick. It’s convenient and it’s discreet. She’s at work, she can duck into a conference room and take that phone interview without her current employer knowing that she’s looking for other jobs.
However, there are certain things that she can’t do and that’s where she has missed those opportunities. She could have used some body language to convey certain things that you can’t simply through your voice. It’s that visual aspect of the verbal, visual and vocal framework that we’ve been using.
Similarly, she may have come off as inauthentic. People over the phone have been rated homogeneously to one another where interviewers cannot remember who they spoke to or what was good about them.
Now when the phone was becoming prevalent in the US and was starting to be used for interviews and collecting data, there were studies done to determine whether this was a good method of getting people to speak to you.
What they showed were that in terms of getting the information that you wanted and making sure it was valid and even conveying complex knowledge and attitudes, the phone was just as good as doing it in person. So, they continued to do so.
However, there are several situations where you may want to use an in-person meeting such as Sarah had the opportunity to and That is if you want to do what’s known as impression management. So, the research on that shows that it not only improves the rating of likability, but also allows the individual to manage their reputation, because they’re allowed to do things like lean in to negative feedback rather than slink away or simply sound defensive and scared over the phone.
It’s another cue that shows that you’re ready for it, as opposed to scared. So, if you have the opportunity and it makes sense, a face-to-face meeting may be optimal. Because with face to face, you own the space. We’re going to call this the great communication breakdown of 2016 for Sarah. She did have one more thing to do that day and this was something exciting.
She’d been looking forward to it for about a month. She had a blind date. She’d been set up by a friend. She’d been told all about how great this guy was. So, she put on her jacket, grabbed a briefcase, headed down the street like a movie. Walked through the door, light shining down at the table at the end of the bar not so good.
She knows this guy and she’s not sure why her friend of a friend kind of set them up together. This is a guy that actually puked on our couch in college. She doesn’t know how this worked, but she knows for sure she doesn’t want to go through with this guy, but she’s had some communication problems today and she thinks, maybe I should go and tell them in person.
Wow, this is a very complex situation. So, we’ve already told you to talk face to face to deliver the complex message. But this time, Sarah chose to text to say, no. She would rather go back home and then lay down on the couch to enjoy a bottle of very good wine to give a happy ending to this frustrating day. So, rules were meant to be broken.
In a tricky communication situation, we’re asking you to remember some simple rules. A complex text will leave them perplexed. To convey the tone, pick up the phone. And with face to face, you own the space.