Tips for choosing the most effective form of communication

Tips for choosing the most effective form of communication

Do you like to get up and walk over to a colleague’s cubicle if you need to ask something? Do you rely heavily on Google Hangouts or another instant messaging app when collaborating on a project? Or do you prefer to use email for every piece of communication during working hours?

In today’s workplace, there’s a wide variety of communication options including email, instant messaging, integrated office message boards or forums, collaboration tools, phone, and of course, in-person meetings. And choosing the most appropriate method of communication can be challenging. We all have our own preferences that provide us with a certain level of comfort and ease—but with little to no thought of whether it’s convenient for the other person.

In addition, certain forms of communication pander to a need for avoidance in the event what we have to say isn’t likely to be well received. For example, sending an email that criticizes a colleague’s contributions helps you avoid an in-person confrontation. However, it should be clear that allowing your personal comfort levels to dictate what method of communication to use isn’t always the smart thing to do. Read on for tips for choosing the most effective and appropriate form of communication.

  • E-mail: Email has long been the preferred method of communication for businesses, but in recent years, it’s becoming clear that email can adversely affect productivity. In fact, the report ‘The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies” from the McKinsey Global Institute states that an average worker spends 28 percent of his or her working hours on managing email. In addition to overload, there’s another drawback to email: it’s difficult to convey tone and nuances, which oftentimes results in miscommunication. According to The Fast Track article “Communication Laws – When to Use Email or Pick Up the Phone” by Allison Green, as a rule of thumb, emails are most effective and appropriate in the following two situations. First, when you need to convey complicated information with a lot of details, for example if you’re explaining a new project or procedure; and second, when you want a written record of what was communicated, for example when you’re asking your supervisor for a day off.
  • Instant messaging: If your company allows the use of instant messaging, it can be a highly practical tool to communicate quickly with a colleague. Since a message pops up immediately on the screen, it usually elicits a much quicker response than an email. However, it doesn’t lend itself to communicating large amounts of information. In general, instant messaging is appropriate for asking a quick question or for exchanging short tidbits of information when you’re collaborating on a project.
  • Integrated office message boards or forums: Increasingly more companies are integrating message boards or forums with their office interfaces. Message boards are very effective for communicating with an entire group of colleagues at once. For example, if you’re working on a project with five coworkers and you want to suggest a new idea, you can simply post it on the forum so others can read and respond in their own time. Be aware that this method of communication doesn’t lend itself to negative feedback, since this can embarrass the recipient in front of the group.
  • Collaboration tools: Collaboration tools like Google Docs allow you to edit and/or comment on shared documents. This method of communication should be reserved purely for structural feedback on the documents. And just like with the message boards, refrain from sharing negative feedback in a manner that could embarrass somebody in front of his or her colleagues.
  • Phone: Giving somebody a call is a more direct and personal way of reaching out. This can be extremely effective if you have something sensitive to discuss in which the tone of your voice will be important to interpret the message correctly. At the same time, Susan Adams in the Forbes article “The New Rules of Business Etiquette” cautions against calling someone when you know they won’t be there, only to leave a voice message. The other person will likely know you’re avoiding them, which isn’t a very good foundation for a conversation. On the other hand, giving somebody a call can be a great way to build positive rapport with somebody you don’t often meet in person, so long as you make sure you call at a time that’s convenient.
  • In-person meetings: If you have something sensitive or confidential to discuss, a face-to-face meeting is the most appropriate way to do so. The additional cues provided by facial expressions and body language can help keep a conversation on track and avert misunderstandings. At the same time, an in-person meeting can work wonders to build or strengthen a business relationship in or outside of the office.

Choosing the most appropriate form of communication is more than good office etiquette: it can also contribute to how effectively you work with others. So keep the tips above in mind and see how it improves your collaboration and performance.