I will not deny it – I have had trouble in the past with communication. In my profession, where the overwhelming majority of communication is done via email or chat, it is so easy for something to be taken completely the wrong way. You’ll often feel obligated to include the rudimentary smiling or winking emoticon after cracking a joke, just to be certain the other party got the hint. The only problem with that is I often worry about a prospective client’s view of my professionalism if I follow up my sentence with a colon-capital-P. Guess I just shouldn’t joke in my written communication at all. But then, who would read it?
Nevertheless, just because communication is so easy in today’s world, that doesn’t make it any less important to follow the time-tested rules of etiquette (or if on the Internet, called “netiquette”) or to err on the side of caution – in fact, it may be more important than ever. To serve as a helpful reminder to us all, your communication can improve a long way if you remember the following:
Be as plain as possible where needed. I am a strong advocate for the type of communication where you don’t “sugar-coat” it, particularly if you’re delivering bad news. People who beat around the bush and try to build up to the point with a myriad of other statements are wasting my time and theirs. I am a guy, and more specifically, a business-minded guy. We are problem-solvers and goal-oriented. The quicker you can tell us what the real deal is, the quicker we can at least begin to address the situation.
Stay organized. Though I’m no longer employed there, my supervisor at Central Tech has probably been one of my biggest influences in the arena of organization. The Marketing Team would get together, and through watching her and my co-workers, I began to learn the essentials of what it takes to take in information and make it work for the people you’re working for. I noticed that she was always busy, but also always productive (yes, there’s a difference). One of the problems I faced was having trouble focusing, both on the conversations we were having and also on how to take it all in. I had a horrible habit of trying every new thing out there that promised to help you be more productive. And maybe they all do, but you can’t use several different tools that all do the same thing and expect to stay sane. Having learned my lesson though, I now rely on one or two tools to stay organized and try out new things cautiously.
Pay careful attention when in conversation. I try to meditate on what the other person is telling me. I’m mulling it over, seeing problems and solutions. I’ll sometimes repeat what they’re saying in my own words to be sure that I’ve got the right idea. Don’t be afraid to ask them to elaborate on something.
Be weary of Faux-Conflict. One of my favorite leaders to read about is Jason Fried, of 37signals in Chicago. Recently, he wrote about dealing with conflict and found that a lot of times, a disagreement isn’t really a disagreement at all. “Sometimes what looks like a disagreement is just an agreement cloaked in competing vocabularies,” he says. This happens way too often when you have folks from different departments trying to iron out the same idea. Each of them has their own jargon they use, and if someone isn’t figuratively speaking the same language they are, they may feel like the other party isn’t getting the point. Before you know it, tempers flare, defenses are established and a great idea gets shot down because of – ironically – agreement.
The solution to this? Get real. Find something visual that everyone can associate their jargon with – a picture or a sketch, for example. People will read the same paragraph and draw different conclusions, but it’s hard to do that with an image of some sort. You’ll find it’s much easier to establish a good agreement – or build a valid disagreement. At the end of the ordeal, everyone will be clear on what happened, not what they think happened.
Micah Choquette is Interactive Director for Rocket No. 9, LLC; a local cross-media Design and Branding agency. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mention this column for a free consultation about what the Web can do for your business (or church).