[tweetmeme]Sometimes it seems that brand new ways to communicate are being invented every day. Uh, uh. We’re mistaking new channels of communication – like the Internet, Skype, smart phones – for the actual messages we send to make ourselves understood. Despite the revolution that is the Internet, nothing has changed from how we sent messages in ancient times.
Think about it: there are only three types of messages: words, pictures and actions. Those 150,000+ IPhone apps all fall into one or a combination of words, pictures and actions.
We communicate with words.....
- …..and actions.
It’s essential to think carefully about how we send a message so that the recipient is absolutely clear what we mean – the deadline is 5 p.m. this afternoon – and the underlying message in how it is delivered. As my mother used to say, “Let’s watch our TOV.” (Tone of voice.)
The sharp retort: “The deadline is 5 p.m. this afternoon!!” conveys much more than a simple “The deadline is 5 p.m. this afternoon.” Have I done something wrong when my manager raises his voice and then stalks out of the office? Of course, that is sending a very clear message. By the same token, we get the message when we feel a feel a friendly pat on the back. Nonverbal communication in business can convey so much more than words alone.
Why does this matter? We’ve all noticed it. Electronic communications is slowly squeezing the civility out of discourse. We dash off emails and text messages with little regard for how the recipient will receive the message. Face-to-face communication where a smile can convey more than a thousand words is missing when increasingly work is done virtually, and a laptop becomes the business traveler’s office.
I particularly worry about younger professionals who live by texting and communicating virtually on Facebook and other social networks. The emotional context is missing. Or worse, is misunderstood.
The back pat, the belly laugh, and the handshake – these convey so much more than words. Are we forgetting how to use them?
Just like clockwork, I received my twice-weekly email from Sherry, one of the bridge directors and instructors from my local duplicate club where I play. For more than six months, since I returned to playing duplicate bridge, I have been receiving these reminders about the Tuesday and Thursday morning games. “Are you playing tomorrow morning?” she’ll ask. Read on and you’ll understand what I’ve learned about business communication from Sherry.
I’ve come to look for the bright blue type in Comic Sans MS – her personal brand. Every one talks about Sherrie’s blue emails. She has built the game from five tables on a Thursday to a dozen or more and then started the Tuesday game, which is growing.
A simple little thing like bold blue lettering in 27 point type makes her stand out from the hundred or more emails I receive daily. She’s also mastered the art of giving to get. Give something free – in her case copies of bridge hands, or tips on playing bridge conventions – and then ask for the order. If you don’t have a partner, she’ll find one for you.
Her emails are pleasant, too. Today she’s wished everyone on her list a Happy Thanksgiving. Then she issued an invitation to her Monday morning class (paying). The carrot if you register is an exercise to practice in advance. She even mentions dressing in layers because the heating system is unpredictable! She ends with the usual reminder:
“Tomorrow is Silver Point Tuesday & there is still time for you to play in the morning game, so email me if you would like to play. No game Thursday morning. Enjoy! Sherry”
So, this is the lesson about email business communication that I’ve learned from Sherrie:
- Be consistent with the timing of your emails. Inject a sense of urgency if there is a deadline to be met.
- Use a large distinctive typeface with a bold color.
- Give something away before asking for the order.
- Be pleasant and attentive to your customers. Offer to help, whatever your business may be.
And by the way, Happy Thanksgiving!
Sitting at my laptop in my neighborhood Starbuck’s, I felt the tension release from my body as Firefox transported me to the Internet. I had been offline for two days. As I attended to some personal business, without my computer, I was truly feeling totally out of the loop.
This got me thinking about the thousands of corporate employees who do not have online access because of the nature of their jobs: assembly line workers, mail sorters and security guards, to name a few. Yet communication to these employees is just as essential as it is to the employees glued to their computers every day. The old-fashioned grapevine — my lips to your ear — is being supplanted by the electronic grapevine, which is as swift as the speed of the internet. More formal company communiques are also going out via the intranet.
Smart employers, of course, have always fed the informal grapevine, which reached everyone in the past. But now some employees may find themselves out of the loop, as I did, without access to a constant electronic steam of information about the company. The electronic grapevine is a great way for management to understand what employees are thinking, to uncover hidden problems and to get feedback in real time.
But what about those employees who are not online? Do they feel less connected — and committed — to the company? The challenge for management is to communicate with all employees, through new technlogies, but also using old-fashioned communication channels such as letters to employees’ homes and the low-tech bulletin board. I’d be interested in hearing from readers how their companies are reaching employees without Internet access.