Have you ever felt inconvenienced by an unexpected phone call at the wrong time? Has an email message ever come across as too aggressive? At one time or another, everyone has chosen the wrong form of communication to send a message to a colleague or customer.
In an era of multimodal office communications, it can be difficult to know which medium to choose for each message.
NOTE: This handy guide is intended to break down the mysterious social contract that seems to be in place in many offices today. It doesn’t take into account individual office cultures. In some office structures, you call first. In others, you don’t even have a phone on your desk, while others still rely entirely on remote employees. So, there’s a lot of variety.
When You Should Call
Level of urgency: Very Important (usually)
Purpose: Immediate two-way conversation, usually discussing details
There are some people who believe all communication should happen by telephone. That group now is in the minority, though, with many stating a preference for other forms of communication. But some conversations are far too complicated for text-based communication. In many of those instances, a phone call works best, especially if you aren’t in the same office with the person at the other end of the discussion. This is especially true if you need a two-way conversation about something that would result in a long, time-consuming exchange of emails or chat messages.
When You Should Email
Level of urgency: Intermediate
Purpose: Initiating a dialogue, documentation
Email remains the most popular form of business communication, taking up nearly a quarter of the average employee’s workday. (And if you’re administering Microsoft Office, then probably a lot of your life on the backend.) Not only is email the quickest way to get a message out there so you can get back to work, it’s also the safest.
Each message you send creates a paper trail that can be used if you need documentation about something important. However, email can be time-consuming and unfortunately, tone can easily be misinterpreted. If you notice an email exchange starts to go astray, keep that in mind and either moderate your tone or pick up the phone and call.
A final word: Marking an email as “Priority” or communicating its urgency via subject line typically means you should consider another form of communication.
When to Chat
Level of urgency: Varied
Purpose: Quick exchanges, clarifications
Increasingly, businesses are relying on internal chat solutions to facilitate communication, especially if any team members work remotely. Chat can be time-consuming, though, because it can be difficult to get away once a conversation starts. As long as you’re good at speaking up when you need to cut a chat short, you can make the most of messaging software. Chat also gives you the immediate back-and-forth of a phone call without having to actually talk on the phone.
When to Submit a Ticket
Level of urgency: That’s up to the receiver, not the reporter
Purpose: Efficiency, ease, and sanity of support teams
Ticketing systems make it easy for teams to respond to requests in an organized fashion. They also prevent things from falling through the cracks. In many cases, ticketing won’t apply to your interoffice communications, but if you’re trying to get tech support, you’ll likely be told to submit a ticket. Don’t try to circumnavigate these processes by contacting your friend on the help desk. Simply place the ticket and follow up if you haven’t heard back within the promised time period.
When to Initiate a Face-to-Face Meeting
For some organizations, it’s rare that everyone is working together in the same building on a day-to-day basis. It’s even rarer to have clients and business partners nearby. This has spurred an increase in video conferencing, phone meetings, and collaboration tools for daily communication.
Yet, there are times when a face-to-face interaction is much more effective. In person, you’ll pick up on cues that you wouldn’t notice, even on a video chat. For client meetings and sales pitches, this in-depth interaction is crucial to success. For team meetings, try to at least do occasional video meetings and, if possible, have everyone in the same place once or twice a year for a retreat or team meeting.
If you’ve wondered what the “rules” are concerning business communication, hopefully, this guidebook will help clarify some things. There’s flexibility in each of these types of communication, and over time you may find that one form of communication works better with some people than others. Combine these rules with your own instincts and you can’t go wrong.
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