I have a simple and powerful rule that has solved crises and averted disasters. It closed big sales and helped me sleep better. It even helped my marriage. The rule: If we email three times trying to answer the same question, then it’s time to stop emailing and try a different route. Call me. Text me. Come into my office. Just don’t send another email.
One big challenge with communication is the many channels for reaching out. Getting on the same page can be tough—figuratively and literally.
Do you text, IM, call, leave a voicemail, send a letter via snail mail (stamp, anyone?) or meet in person? Each method has pros and cons, but we’ve got to do what it takes to communicate effectively in each situation. Below are my top musts for communicating like a pro—plus the one thing to never do if you want to be taken seriously as a communicator and leader.
Must-Do No. 3
If you’ll be unreachable by email, set up an auto-responder that says so. No, I don’t need to know you’re on a cruise in the Mediterranean with JLo. All I need to know is what actions you want me to take and for what period of time.
Do you want me to contact someone else in your office, send a text or sit tight? Make it easier for me, and you make it easier for you! Otherwise my un-replied email can snowball into more emails, phone messages and text messages—and soon you think there’s a crisis when all I needed to know is your shirt size.
Must-Do No. 2
When you leave a voicemail, speak slowly and specify how you want the person to respond—phone call or text? Me, I’m a huge fan of texting to answer quick, uncomplicated questions. Do you agree?
Must-Do No. 1
To convey an emotional, personal, controversial or potentially upsetting message, consider not sending it electronically. Any form of electronic communication leaves nuance, tone and emphasis open to misinterpretation. You’re trying to promote someone, but he thinks you’re going to fire him. Those miscues are costly.
Important conversations are best carried out in person or at least by phone or Skype. I’d rather have a tough conversation where both sides feel heard, included and valued than a tough conversation in which the other party could misinterpret the message (and then might send an ugly response because he misconstrued your intent—and on Facebook, where everyone can see).
My one thing to never do if you want to be an effective communicator? Never click “Reply All” to answer an email. NEVER. You forward a virus, and we forgive. You hit “Reply All” and we ban you from our inboxes. Why? Because an unnecessary “Reply All” dilutes the importance of more pressing communications in the person’s inbox. And email is a crushing responsibility already. (If you need to correspond with a team of, say, three or more people, Basecamp software is better for projects.) “Reply All” also spreads viruses like wildfires.
At many companies, the use of “Reply All” has literally become a “coachable moment” on what not to do. I know of one company that makes employees who use “Reply All” wear a dunce cap for the day. Now that’s a picture worth sharing via every communication outlet.