#100things Avoid problems by effectively choosing your communication channel

We all have a default communication channel that we feel comfortable with. Some use email, others chat, and yet others prefer meetings. 

Unfortunately, this can lead us to work very ineffectively as it is better to choose the communication channel best suited for the situation. I used to overuse email as my default communication channel. It had the beauty of me getting things off my to-do list swiftly and not getting into difficult discussions. Only over time, I realized that this often led to many additional emails for clarifications, which I could have avoided. Even worse were the situations in which my emails made others upset or irritated. This both damaged the relationship and required enormous time for resolution.   

Choosing the right communication channel is important when you kick off a communication stream. It is also important when you get included into one, like being copied on an email. Shifting an existing communication to the right channel can very much improve its effectiveness. Maybe you are part of a meeting in which everybody shares lengthy updates, which could be better done in written form or as short voice messages. Or there is a long email ping pong chain, which would better be resolved in a short meeting. You’ll likely have such situations daily. 

Thus, become intentional about choosing the right communication channel. We all have various channels available:

  • Email
  • Chat
  • Meeting (mostly virtual now)
  • Or “phone” calls (including any other video calling systems)

I learned that I’m better at using certain channels – especially meetings and video calls. Interestingly, these were not my default choices. Which ones do you excel at? How do these match with your default choice? Your competency in the different ways to communicate plays an important role for your choice. Be aware of your skills and get feedback from others to learn about yourself. 

Here are a couple of further factors to consider, when you start or engage in a communication:

  • Is it just about sharing information? A post in a MS-Teams or a similar tool might be the best way to move forward.
  • Do you need a discussion? A meeting is likely inevitable.
  • Do you have a quick question? A chat or a quick call might help.
  • Do you just need a confirmation? Usually a chat is the best way.
  • Do you need documentation for your communication? Have the best channel for the communication and then store the relevant parts appropriately. Documentation should not drive the communication channel. 
  • How many recipients do you have? Do they all have the same need? Maybe there is a small group for a meeting and a discussion and a larger group for an email or an MS-Teams message. 
  • Do you need to speak about a controversial topic? Having a video meeting or a face-to-face meeting will nearly always be the best option.
  • Do you have a lot of possibilities for misunderstandings? Make sure it is easy to detect them and give people the opportunity to ask back. 
  • How urgent do you need to get it resolved? The fire brigade does not send emails. Neither should you in these cases. 

Make it a habit for yourself to reflect on the right communication channel before you hit “reply”,  “start new chat/email”, or “new meeting”. It will definitely make your life easier. 

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