One paradigm that most of us have adopted (or in some cases fallen victim to) is the use of emails and text as the preferred method of reaching out to our fellow employees, business associates, and clients. We see an increasing tendency to hide behind our digital communication walls in business communications. There is a clear and present danger here, and I plead ‘guilty.’
One of the reasons for this is that many of us take the path of least resistance, especially in the way we communicate. While the most obvious and shortest distance between two points is a straight line, this does not speak to resistance or outcomes.
With all the speed of digital, it is understandable that we fall into the “shortest distance” method of thinking. The downside is that we run the risk of ignoring the human factors of communication and unintended consequences.
With all the speed and accessibility of digital connectivity, it is understandable that we fall into the easiest and “shortest distance” method of thinking.
The downside is that we run the risk of ignoring the human factors of business communications and those nasty unintended consequences.
Simply said: to email and text is convenient and has revolutionized the way we communicate.
As revolutionizing as this has been, it has also become a too convenient way to avoid the work involved in meaningful communication when it matters most.
What we often don’t consider as we choose the easy option over the right one is just how profoundly it can undermine our success in building business relationships. For those of us who plead guilty, our first step in rehabilitation is to understand that how we communicate matters!
Some Business Communication Facts
Long standing research has shown that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.
Another study is the 60/40 formula with the comparison of importance between facial (60%) and vocal (40%) components as it relates to a person’s perceived attitude.
Digital communications (email and text) lacks body language, eye contact, voice inflections, and other nuances. Missing these key emotional elements, an email or text message is forced to bear the burden of the entire human message being sent. This is an impossible goal.
Attempting to manage, grow, and strengthen a close relationship, largely through email and texting, can hinder this process.
At the core of face-to-face communication is self-disclosure.
This is a communication practice where one person shares information, such as thoughts, feelings, likes/dislikes, goals, failures, about themselves to another. In sharing of this information with someone you reveal more about yourself and learn about them in the process.
Over time, through open back-and-forth disclosure, a relationship will develop and strengthen. Digital communication tends to dampen this attempt namely due to the lack of human face to face or vocal presence.
Dana Carney, an assistant professor of management at University of California, Berkeley says it’s easier to mislead via technology.
“When you’re close to someone face-to-face, they’re real to you and it’s harder to do bad things, to lie to them,” she said. “The more distance we have from someone, the more likely we are to make decisions in a cold, purely cognitive way.”
“Unlike the old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder, when it comes to communicating, distance doesn’t make it grow fonder, but harder – less caring, colder.”
When we use email or texting as our preferred business communications tool, we run the risk of misinterpretation causing offense or even damage. The intended message you are emailing or texting and what the recipients are reading can be starkly different.
Sans vocal infection, subtle nuances, facial expressions and body language, your intended message can be completely misinterpreted. If you have ever had a sarcastic remark via email backfire, you will have discovered this already.
Our words to the wise is to never send an email immediately when you are mad. Cool off and give the repercussions some thought.
Look long and hard at sending emails that overtly criticize. Observation is one thing and criticism is another. Do your best not to cancel or apologize via email. Without the human factor these are risky things to do.
Communicating by email pros and cons:
- Easy to send same message to multiple people
- Allows recipient to reply when they have the time
- Good for getting simple messages across
- Easier to ignore or added to a sea of other messages
- Lacks, voice, tone, and human quality
- Can take up a lot of time and energy emailing back and forth
- 57% of people think email is spam unless it is directly relevant to them
The Power of the Phone
If a face-to-face conversation is not practical, many times it is best to just pick up the phone instead of email or text. On the surface just sending an email seems more efficient but consider the purpose of the email and the unintended consequences.
When you skip that person-to-person contact, you’re missing the opportunity to answer other questions, clarify information, and simply offer a more personalized business communications experience. In other words, build or reinforce a relationship.
When an email is sent, you are relying on a hope that your message is viewed. Sometimes you get a response but many times a second email is needed to determine if they received the initial email or even read it.
If the email has not been read due to lack of time or because it was lost amid other emails this negates the importance of the first email and extends the response time. If the person claims they never received the message, then you will need to re-send your message and start the process all over again.
Depending upon the importance of the message, this could have been communicated verbally via a phone conversation.
Communicating by phone pros and cons:
- Voice, tone, and personality shine through
- Better for building a relationship
- Easier to explain complex ideas and have a back and forth conversation
- Phone calls are 10x more likely to lead to sales
- Can catch people off guard
- More effort than sending off a quick email
- Requires a quiet place
We are not suggesting that email and texting should go away! On the contrary, digital communication is critical to our industry and professional growth.
What we are saying is that the processes we use to communicate with each other are critical to their outcomes and we need to pay more attention to those. For us to blindly situate ourselves behind a digital communication wall is to ignore the benefits of face to face human interaction or a simple phone call.
We have a rule in our company: when working with a client, once we have had three emails, a phone call is next. Know what emails and text can and cannot do.
Know what face to face or vocal can add to the equation. In the end, understand the outcomes you desire in your business communications and use the best path to get there.