It's true that the dramatic advances in communications technology have remarkably sped up our ability to connect “real-time”. There’s a drawback to the ease and instantaneous nature of these tools, however, since they can sometimes short-circuit delivering a message better suited to personal delivery. It's worth taking a moment to consider your options and their limitations:
- In-Person. It doesn't get any better than this, whether one-on-one or with a team.
- Video Conference. The advent of this technology, which is now in the hands of millions, is a huge step forward. It certainly qualifies as the “Next Thing”, but I'd argue against including the word “Best” in there. With a robust broadband connection, you can see (sometimes) and hear (sometimes) the other party and (sometimes) conduct a complete conversation. I often think back to the Star Trek “Transporter” (“Beam me up, Scotty!), which disassembled the person or group of people into sub-atomic particles and reassembled them on the other side. I've always been fascinated by that; as you may know, that technology was still relatively new in the context of the show and didn't always work correctly. If it didn't, the person didn't transmit and/or reassemble as intended, with serious consequences. When I look at today’s video-conference screens, I often get that ‘uh-oh’ feeling when the other person degrades into particles or freezes in time. When it does work, the one big thing still missing is the proximity of the other person (or people) and the emotional connection that goes along with it.
- Conference Call. Don't we all love these? Truly, when “three-way-calling” was invented, it was a really cool thing. And it still is, as a tool to get several parties together quickly to discuss a particular topic. Then technology “advanced” even further and we gained the ability to loop an infinite number of people into a call. Let's just say that the idea is far better than the reality. When you've got five minutes to spare (and a decent broadband connection) you'll enjoy the following video:
- E-Mail. This tool has wrapped around our business lives like no other. It's used for virtually every type of business communication, from complex to trivial, from urgent to spam, from inspirational to informational. The problem with e-mail is that it is often misused as a substitute for a call or in-person meeting. In my view, e-mail has never solved a problem, but it has certainly spawned plenty of them. It's great for factual recaps and sharing detailed documents, but what's shared usually requires some other form of more personal interaction for something truly useful to result from it. When an e-mail is properly thought out and prepared carefully, it can be a good thing; all too often, however, it ends up being the vessel for sharing half-baked ideas with too many people. There are far too many aspects of e-mail etiquette involved to dive any deeper here…
- Text Message. Instant, emotional, snippets of the moment. This fairly recent “advancement” can be fun, friendly and helpful, but it has a dark side. It can also be aggressive, angry and hurtful in the wrong hands at the wrong moment. It's often sent without complete thought and, as a result, is often received without understanding. It most definitely is NOT a substitute for effective business communications with coworkers and clients; texts don't count. There should almost be a prompt message when you click “send” that asks: “Are you sure you want to send this message?!?” Here's a personal rule to consider adopting: If you wouldn't say it face-to-face, don't text it. Oh, and don't text and drive!
Pick your communication method to suit the situation; know what it does and doesn't offer you as the initiator, or for the intended recipient(s). The quality of your communications will have massive influence on your success and the value of the interpersonal relationships you build. Choose wisely and enjoy the journey!