Here’s an emai I just wrote to a friend. It seemed worthy of being posted here.
I’ve been thinking recently about communication styles, most particularly since I got a text message a couple weeks ago about communicating with others in their preferred styles.
I’d like to share with you how and why I use various styles of communication. I’m always open to learning new things and changing my preferences, and I would very much value your thoughts on this as well.
There are currently only a few main styles of communicating with someone:
- Face to face, privately or in public
- Text Message
- Instant Message
- Video Chat
- Postal Mail
Methods of communication other than these are just not used enough to be discussed here. Ham or shortwave radio? CB radio? Semaphore? Telegraph? Naval flags? Nope. I don’t use any of those.
Face to face, privately or in public
This, to me, is always the preferred method, because of the personal touch, the ability to interact, and to read body language, which often communicates as much as or more than words do.
All other styles of communication, unless the communicator is uncommonly adept, miss out on the nuances you can glean from a face-to-face conversation.
Unfortunately, this type of communication means you and the other person (people) have to go somewhere you can get together. Most of the time when we need to communicate, getting together in person just isn’t an option.
So while this style is the most preferred, it is also one of the least convenient.
This was the first means by which people could communicate without being face to face. It’s still quite popular. It is a “live” conversation, and while you cannot pick up any visual feedback from the person with whom you are communicating, you can certainly pick up audio cues. Tone of voice, hesitations, level of enthusiasm, etc.
The biggest drawback to telephonic communication is that it frequently interrupts whatever else it was you were doing. A ringing phone used to be, and for some it still is, an absolute mandate to stop whatever it is you’re doing, no matter how inconvenient, and go answer that phone.
Another big drawback is that, just like with a face to face conversation, the fact that it is live and immediate doesn’t give you any chance to edit your words after they are out of your mouth. You cannot “unsay” that thing you just said.
For me, a phone call is the highest priority when the communication is urgent enough to warrant my taking a chance on interrupting the other person. If what I have to tell or ask them can easily be taken care of within a few hours to a few days, I’ll usually choose another style, out of respect to the other person’s time.
I will also choose a phone call if it’s the other person’s preferred method of communicating, but I try to remain sensitive to whether they’re busy.
For me, text messages are for information or questions that are more urgent than an email, but not so urgent as to need a phone call. If I need a response from someone within a few minutes to a few hours, I’ll usually choose a text message.
Text messages are more intrusive than an email, but not as intrusive as a phone call.
There are some people who live much of their lives through text messages. My sister, for example, sends amazingly long text messages.
Text messages used to be limited to 140 characters, but most phones and plans today permit almost unlimited length. Even so, I prefer to send (and receive) messages that aren’t too long.
This is sending a text message to someone who’s online at the time. It enables you to have a “live” conversation with a person by typing, without using a phone.
Frequently used in office environments, when you can IM your coworker for a quick, non-urgent question.
I used this a lot when I was working with a business associate three time zones away, but haven’t used it much since.
This can be done either on the computer or with more modern smartphones. Both people have to be online at the same time, and it allows you to pick up many more nuances than a simple voice call.
This is most useful for me for talking with distant family, just to feel closer to them as we talk.
This is my second most preferred method of communication. It allows me to write at virtually unlimited length, so I can get in all the details that just aren’t good to put in a text message, plus it allows me to read over it and edit it before I send it. This way, I can make sure it’s coming across the way I intended.
For the recipient, they can get to an email when they’re good and ready, and answer it when they feel like it. Emails are not intrusive; they do not interrupt what you’re doing, so they’re excellent for routine communications, or even urgent things that aren’t too urgent.
Yes, people still write letters, but these days, it’s usually only for business, or for people with a lot of silver in their hair. Rare is the young person these days who will write and mail a letter.
However, I still use postal mail for people who prefer it. Indeed, some people still only get postal mail and phone calls, so these is the only methods to communicate with them from a distance.
SUMMARY: I will use all these styles of communication at times, depending on the circumstance, urgency, and recipient. For routine things, I’ll use email or face to face when I have the chance. For more urgent things, or short touches, I’ll use text messages and phone calls.
The most important thing, I believe, is not how we communicate, but simply that we do communicate.
The more frequently, the better.