Have you ever been caught out as a result of choosing the wrong medium for your communication? Recently an HR consultant friend told me about a client who has sacked somebody by text message with unpleasant and expensive consequences, and this got me thinking.

by Gavin Meikle, Head of Learning and Founder of Inter-Activ

Today we are spoilt for choice when it comes to communications media. When I first started working the main options available to me were just three.

– Face to face

– Telephone (Land-line only!- Yes I am that old)

– Written i.e. letters, memos and paper newsletters

Nowadays we have so many more options to choose from including:

– Personal emails

– E-newsletters

– Websites

– Blogs

– Video and Conference calling

– Webinars

– Text (SMS)

– Personal Messaging

– Social Media – Linkedin, Facebook, Twittter etc.

But have all of these new tools really improved our ability to communicate effectively or have they just made it more difficult to choose?

So what do we mean by effective communication? For the purposes of this article I’ve defined it as “the transfer of information from a “sender” to a receiver” in such a way that the receiver has the same understanding of the meaning and importance of that information as the sender intended”.

Whilst part of our communication is the content i.e. what we actually say or write and another part is the way we say it, in this article I’ll be focusing in on the appropriateness and effectiveness of medium used to transmit the message.

To choose the best medium we need to ask ourselves a few simple questions.

1. What’s my message and what do I want the other person to do as a result of receiving it?

2. Who am I communicating with?

3. How “rich “ is the information I am communicating ie. how much information do I need to pass on? (for more information on richness theory check out this wikipedia article)

4. How likely is it that the receiver will need to ask clarifying questions?

5. How sensitive or personal is the message?

Our challenge is that most of us are time poor and so we tend to reach for the quickest or easiest method of communication without considering whether it is really the most effective one.

Coming back to my example at the start of this article. Texting someone to say they have been sacked was grossly inappropriate. Clearly a face to face meeting was the appropriate (and ultimately less costly) solution.

So next time you are considering sending an email or a text, stop and think. Ask yourself is this really the best option? How else could I communicate this information that might be more effective?

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