A few weeks ago, I sat down at my computer to compose an e-mail to a good friend about a new project I’ve been really excited about. I got the greeting out of the way and began telling the story of this new venture. I hacked out a sentence or two and then stopped. I didn’t like the way I was describing this thing for which I’m extremely passionate. I deleted those two sentences and tried again. Still hated it.
Then it occurred to me. I needed to just pick up the phone and call my friend.
E-mail has become the standard method of communication in our world. It’s fast and easy, and I don’t begrudge the invention altogether, but e-mail is flawed. Because e-mail is so convenient, we don’t always take the time to consider the tone we’re using, and misunderstandings happen. Even if we’ve considered our tone, it isn’t uncommon for the reader to assume you meant something another way. In addition to the tone problem, people often have an easier time being rude or terse over e-mail. We can be very brave when we’re hiding behind our laptop screen.
Unfortunately, e-mail has become a necessity, and I’ll grant that there are a number of legitimate uses for it. But if you want to communicate more effectively, and make sure that your personality comes across with your friends and colleagues, consider adding these three methods to your communication toolbox.
I have an iPhone, and I think it’s funny sometimes that we call this device a “phone”. Most of my use of my “phone” is browsing the web, using an app, e-mailing, text messaging, etc. An actual phone call has almost become a novelty – much like when I was a kid and someone would send me a letter in the mail. It didn’t happen often, so it was actually pretty special when it did. But we should learn to use that feature on our smartphones.
Speaking on the phone lets your friend or colleague hear your voice. They can sense sarcasm, and they can better understand meaning. This kind of direct communication is almost always better than e-mail. It may take a little more time and intention, but make phone calls a regular part of how you interact with people.
Better yet, use services like Google Plus, Facetime, and Skype to video chat with your folks. Not only will your friend now be able to hear inflection and tone in your voice, but they can also see your expressions, knowing when you’re smiling, frowning, etc. When you can’t be physically in the same room as another person, video chat can often be the next best thing.
Half of our team works in Virginia and the other half in Texas. It can be challenging to work so closely with others, yet to have so much distance between us. Video chats make a world of difference in bridging the geographical gap. We often use these as the equivalent of popping into a co-worker’s office, something you have the luxury of when you work in the same location, and something that is really important to teamwork.
A Handwritten Note
If you want to see how much you have come to rely on your computer, get out a pen and paper and see how long you can write before your hand feels like it’s going to fall off. Unless you journal or take a lot of old-school notes, you probably won’t make it long. A handwritten note, however, is a really fantastic way to show someone that you cared enough to subject your hand to that kind of abuse, to get stationary and a stamp, and to go to all the trouble of mailing something.
Think about the way you felt the last time you got a card or note in the mail unexpectedly. Do you want to be the kind of person who makes others feel that way? Pick up this ancient practice, and revolutionize the way you communicate.
E-mail is a great tool, but it’s just one tool among many. Identify the kinds of relationships and conversations that are best served by e-mail, but also consider the times when your relationships would be much better served by more personal communication.