During a presentation I was delivering last week, one of the attendees asked what to do about communication methods that we dislike. Specifically, he was wondering about how to handle modes of transmission that make us uncomfortable – things like email, texting, telephone, and the like.
The multiplicity of communication methods we have available at the moment make it seem like we can cherry-pick which style of contact we choose to use. In reality, this is pretty lousy business practice. Different methods have different strengths and weaknesses, and regardless whether they are intuitive for us on an individual basis, we need to learn to make use of them all.
Understanding why a certain method doesn’t work for you is extremely useful; it’s worth taking the time to figure out what aspects of that mode make you uncomfortable. Once you know why, let’s say, email gives you the heebie jeebies, you can start to find ways to mitigate that problem. Telephones have been my personal bugbear for some time. Like most teens, I spent an aggravating amount of time glued to one. Once email became the de rigeur mode of communication among my peers, however, I started to hate the phone with a passion. Ringing telephones would send my heart rate through the roof, and by the time I was out of university and in the workforce, I’d do just about anything to avoid a phone conversation.
Eventually I figured out that the main reason for this aversion was the fact that I can’t see the body language of the person on the other end. This drove me batty. I rely quite heavily on that kind of info, and when it was stripped from real-time conversation, I became anxious. Email gave me time to ruminate over the message and its nuances and craft a more thoughtful response. Phones demanded that I give a response on the spot without having a pretty big chunk of info about the mental state of the person I was conversing with. This was not a problem when I was a teen – I spent so much time on the phone that listening for vocal cues instead of physical cues was easy. I had simply forgotten how to do it.
Once I figured out why I disliked phone conversations, I could focus on the benefits. One five minute phone call could resolve something that would take hours over email. Phone conversations were more intimate and friendly. They improved relationships; clients often expressed considerable pleasure at having me call and talk to them than simply corresponding via email. In order to get over my discomfort with not being able to see the other person, I now focus on nuances my conversant’s voice. I make a concerted effort to call people instead of emailing them or sending them messages via FaceBook. Phone calls are slowly growing on me again.
If you dislike email, what is it about the email that puts you off? If it’s the technology or interface that trips you up, spend some time learning how to use it more effectively. If you feel that you never know what tone the other person is using, try reading the emails out loud a few times with different expressions to hear how it might sound out loud. Is texting bothering you but your clients insist on it? Treat it like a pager – if your client sends you several messages, use it as a cue that they want you to call them. Figure out what you need to learn or do to make using the technology easier, and then focus on the benefits to make it a pleasure instead of a pain.