Simple Rules of Communication


by Samuel Greengard

It's remarkable that in an era of unparalleled communications capabilities, many of us constantly dial into communication problems. The net effect is lost productivity and revenues--as well as an increased use of choice expletives.

Here are five basic rules to consider before pressing the "talk" or "send" button:

Use the right tool. Too often, people rely on a preferred method of communication or the simplest tool at that moment, rather than the right form of communication for the specific situation. For example, CIO Jones sends Network Administrator Smith an e-mail initiating a conversation about unexpected overtime associated with a project. This unleashes a few dozen e-mail messages over the course of a few days--sucking up a couple of hours between the two of them. Alas, a 10 or 15 minute phone discussion would have resolved the issue. Here's a basic guideline: if you need to relay specific information then use e-mail. If it's necessary to engage in a discussion or it's going to take several e-mail messages then pick up the phone.

Don't CYA. Yes, it's important to document important conversations and events--and keep key individuals informed. But too many people unnecessarily copy too many other people on e-mail messages. Not only does this add to inbox glut and fuel the tendency to gloss over messages, it leads to people using e-mail when a phone call would suffice (please re-read item #1 above). Please do everyone a favor and think about who you're sending the message to before you push send. You can always forward an e-mail later. Don't hide behind the technology. There's no small irony in the fact that it's more difficult to reach certain people in an era of e-mail, text messaging and mobile telephony than it was a quarter century ago--before electronic messaging and voicemail. We know you're busy. We know you're important. But please answer your e-mails with 24 hours or so and call back by the next day. You're not doing anyone a favor by avoiding people. In fact, if you're not sure about something, just say you're not sure and say you'll get back to the person in a few days. Just don't go AWOL and force people to waste their time trying to get a hold of you.

Check your spam filter early and often. We all know that valid e-mail messages constantly wind up in over-aggressive spam filters. How often does this scenario happen? You send a message to an associate and she claims she never got it? Then, two days later, she checks in her spam folder and viola, it's there! Please do everyone a favor. Glance through the spam folder every few hours instead of once a week. Also, send a confirmation when someone sends you an important document or file. In some cases, e-mails vanish into the black hole of the Internet. Finally, if you're a network administrator, check server settings to ensure that legitimate e-mail doesn't get blocked or tossed into the spam folder. I've seen situations where legitimate e-mail addressed wind up blocked and no one can unblock them!

Give people the right tools to communicate. Don't try to save a few bucks with last year's phone or a budget cutting initiative that stamps out cellular data plans and paid Wi-Fi. If you're mobile or you have a mobile workforce, make sure people can stay connected with the right phones and applications. Build a network infrastructure--tapping into unified communications, cloud services, and other technologies--that deliver messages in a single inbox. Make it easy so people can't mess up!