Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Communicating Your Relationship


Marketing, Money and More (Issue 13)



Communication Overload


I was recently inspired by my friends, colleagues and...shoot....even the girls I dated to write this one, so I hope it helps you empathize with others in this new age of communication. I thought about my last month of communicating with people. This morning I checked my Facebook and Twitter. Yay! I got 2 mentions on twitter, 50 club invites on Facebook and a few comments and posts from friends. Ooh. Three people liked my smart comment! I switched gears and jumped into Outlook. I had 20 messages waiting for me in my inbox. Got a text from my buddy who lives in the same condo development that I do. That exchange went two or three rounds at least. Then..Oops, I work from my home, so I had to jump on to AIM to have some email-related discussion with my friends at mobileStorm. I then took a look at Linkedin and I had a few requests to get connected and someone I was hoping would reach out, reached out. I jumped a little when my phone rang. Of course, it's mom. The only one that still leaves me voicemails. Get to that one later.

Point here is that 12 years ago I was lucky to get a page on my pager from friends and then I'd pull out my decoder to see what code meant what and then call someone back once I figured it out. NOW, I have what feels like 100 different ways to get a message to and from someone. This new buffet of communication methods has expanded my network by allowing me to keep tabs on more people from anywhere, but it also has shown me where I stand with those people. The channels I use now communicate something. The time I take to respond communicates something. Not doing anything communicates something. What am I communicating and do I even know am doing it? Calm down. Let's take this slow and work it out.


Where Do You Stand?

Let's take this personal, very personal. I am a single guy in Vegas. I date... A lot. It's very funny how you can tell where you stand with the people you are dating...or trying to date. I always call first to ask someone out or I do it in person. I don't always get the same in return. I'll get the number one night and call a few nights later and leave a voicemail. A few minutes later I get a text response, "Hey. Glad you called. Heading to a fun event later. Let me know what you are up to." I called and I got a text back. This does not look promising. Essentially, I was downgraded. I value a phone call more highly than a text. This girl likely calls people she feels are important, but I do not meet that criteria. We'll see how this one goes...

I have moved up the ladder from a Facebook friend, to a text buddy, to a phone call and ultimately to a dating situation. You can tell by the progression that my personal value rose with this person to a level where she was able to give up a piece of her time to communicate on the phone and ultimately in person. These are usually the best situations and when response times are fast, it's a good sign. It's also really telling when the other person uses multiple communications throughout the day.

I've also been downgraded. Recently I watched a dating situation move from in-person to phone calls, to text messages, to email and then ultimately it disappeared. Not only did the communication method dip in "personal value," but I also noticed the response time get longer and longer and longer when I would reach out. The inevitable "beginning of the end."

This goes beyond dating. I have had business situations as well where the communications heat up and fizzle out. What's appropriate for personal is not always the same for business. Knowing how and when to use what channel will give you the best outcome in business or your personal life. 90% of communication is non-verbal and words are just words so pay attention.


Matching the Channel to the Message

Here are the channels I feel that I have available to me throughout my day in order of the highest personal value to lowest personal value to me:
  1. In-Person Meeting
  2. Phone Call
  3. Text Message
  4. IM
  5. Email
  6. Facebook
  7. Twitter
(I didn't leave out direct mail, but I really don't think it counts for day to day.)

Meetings are the top dog. It is the highest level of respect and engagement you can have with another human being. Business or personal, nothing says you are important more than someone taking the time to meet up. It is getting more and more rare these days, but if you want to impress someone, get dressed and meet somewhere for more than 30 minutes.

Phone calls are the next best thing. I do most of my work over the phone. It's a bit harder to gauge reactions because you can't see their facial expressions and body language, but if you are good, you can do anything in the business world. I always tell people I can't give them everything over the phone because then why would you want to hang out with me. I try to move people I want to value me up the ladder by make each communication experience better than the previous and hinting at how much better the next step up will be.

Text messages
are great for quick informative communications, like leaving a digital post-it note on the fridge. You can get out a quick communication, but choose words carefully and do your best to leave nothing to interpretation...not an easy task for 160 characters. Arguments and bad news are not great in a text message and will likely lead to misunderstandings, plus they are in print. No one can forget a text message with hateful content when they can look at it repeatedly.

IM is great for having conversations when sitting at your computer and banter, but again it is removed from the personal nature of speech. This can give people a lot of time to think out their comments and it's hard to be "in the moment".

Email is great for keeping records and sending private messages, but again we have some of the same pitfalls of text messaging. I feel that email is easy to hide behind, but it is wise to keep bad news or highly personal and sensitive messages out of email.

Facbook can be fun for flirting and keeping up with friends. It can also be a way for people to make judgment on the lifestyle you put up there. Pictures tend to be fun and don't show you at home reading a book. It's a place where jealous boyfriends can make assumptions and arguments can be taken public. Being someone's Facebook friend is equivalent to having class with someone in my book. People celebritize themselves and let everyone know every little thing they are doing (Self-admittedly, I am guilty.)

Twitter can be good for promoting your professional knowledge and philosophies, but it is not the best place to try to air your dirty laundry. This is where people go to share information and insight. I don't feel very dynamically connected to my Twitter followers unless I know them in other capacities.


Communications Etiquette


I feel like there is little education out there for people. These channels just sort of snuck up society and I'm not sure if anyone consciously realizes that an etiquette has developed for people that are good communicators. I get extremely offended when etiquette is consistently tossed aside and responses to my communications come through "lower value channels." This practice makes others feel devalued.

Try to return the communication using the same channel as your received the original message in. If someone calls you, call them back. If someone tags you on Facebook, tag them back. If someone emails you, reply to them with an email. This is the best way to avoid conflict and maintain the level of your relationship with that person. It's a sign of respect to reciprocate an exchange.

Understand what is appropriate. I think society would gasp if police officers started texting loved ones of deceased family members and doctors gave bad news over Facebook. Although extreme examples, understand that the more sensitive the content of your message, the higher up the communication "value chain" you should go. It shows poor character to deliver bad news via email and text. It is a slap in the face to the recipient and it will likely escalate matters.


Say What You Mean Because You Already Said It

Use the appropriate channel for what you want to say. To say to someone, "I really want to see you today, let's get together." via text message, then be unresponsive for the rest of the day is a massive contradiction. The intent may have been positive, but all this did was frustrate the person receiving the message. Not only was the communication impersonal due to the fact that if someone really wants to see you, they would be excited to pick up the phone, but being inaccessible from that point forward is a very clear, "I really didn't want to see you today." Remember, everyone knows you have a Facebook, Twitter, cell phone, email, fax, IM and various other ways of getting in touch. It is nearly impossible for anyone to believe that someone can be "inaccessible" or not get 4 out of 5 communications. Being honest is the key in this new age of communications.

How awkward would it be to find out the sex of your unborn child via a Twitter DM. These channels and message values do not match. I feel that often, bad news is give via the easiest channel like text or email. It's easy to hide behind text or email and carefully construct your sentences for the most impact. These are also the easiest to misinterpret. People add their own voice and tone in written word depending on their mood and impression of the sender. It is NEVER a good idea to send sensitive communications that will hurt or upset another person via text message or email. Over the phone or in person is the only way you will be able to react to facial cues, body language and inflections to properly manage emotional interactions.

The whole point of this is to be aware of what your channel selections communicate to those around you. Over time, people can get a sense of where they stand with you by the method you choose to communicate to them with. The old adage, "Actions speak louder than words." sums up this post perfectly. Be respectful and show the people you value you really do value them by giving them the best interaction. Reciprocate respectfully using the same channel as they used to reach out. I promise you if you call me, I will call you back. Just understand that you need to be direct and truthful about your relationship these days because its very likely you've already told other people how you feel about them...and you didn't even know it.