E-mail and texting are my preferred modes of communication, along with the rare in-person business meeting and frequent in-person meetings with friends. Whether socially or for work, I’m not a fan of phone calls and even less a fan of video calls. At least when you’re on an unproductive phone call, you can do other things at the same time.
It turns out many people disagree with me and would place e-mail as their least favorite mode of communication. In fact, a recent article in Forbes by Rachel Wells cites research revealing that most miscommunication happens over e-mail.
“…according to a report from Preply, a foreign language learning platform, approximately 90 percent of employees believe workplace misunderstandings and miscommunication have a common starting point: e-mail. In fact, based on the study, e-mail has the highest rate of causing fractured communication and workplace anxiety, with 67 percent of misunderstandings sprouting from voice messages, 71 percent from phone calls, 79 percent through direct messaging, 80 percent from text messages, and an overwhelming 87 percent via e-mail. The research was conducted in November and surveyed 1,030 U.S. employees to explore communication preferences in the workplace,” Wells writes.
I wonder if part of the problem is that the two people communicating favor different modes of communication. My impulse, once I have a person’s e-mail address, is to use it as a first line of communication, even if I have their phone number. If I don’t have success reaching them by e-mail, and I have their mobile phone number, I sometimes will text them. The funny part is that in the text I often reference the e-mail I sent them.
Chances are, most of these people never saw my e-mail. In some cases, they tell me they saw my e-mail, but haven’t had a chance to respond. As a person who writes and edits for a living, I take for granted that it will be as easy for them to respond in an e-mail as it was for me to write the e-mail. In one case, a person I e-mailed and then happened to see a few weeks after I sent the message (which she never responded to) told me she had received my message and was “crafting a response.”
Start by Asking Them
With so many ways to communicate today, it could be helpful to ask members of your work team and business colleagues at other companies you correspond with how they prefer to communicate. Some may tell you that reaching them by text is the only way they will promptly see the message and respond. Work colleagues may favor their e-mail system’s chat feature or using a system such as Slack for quick exchanges.
There could be a place on your intranet where everyone’s communication preferences are listed. That way, you don’t waste time sending an e-mail a recipient may never see or respond to.
Interestingly, I sometimes don’t see chats sent through my work group’s e-mail system’s chat feature. I would rather receive an e-mail or a text message sent to my phone. I always wonder why the person didn’t just send me an e-mail or text my phone since all of my work colleagues have my personal cell phone number. I realize now that some feel chatting over a work e-mail system is more convenient and avoids filling up a work in-box or personal cell phone with unimportant, quick questions.
Second Line of Communication
Some people don’t respond to any messages on the first try. The best way to reach one of my business associates is by text, but they may ignore a message for days. Some people have a lower threshold for multitasking than those who have to do so for their job. For example, I jockey back and forth from Word document to Website content management platform and phone to work e-mail in-box all day, determining when I need to pause and respond to a message. But other people may not be utilizing multiple systems throughout the day or may choose to dedicate a certain portion of the day to respond to e-mail messages.
So along with asking about communication preferences, it could be useful to ask what people should do if a full day goes by without a response to a message. Should they send a reminder e-mail or text? Should they call—and if so, at home, at work, on a cell? Is there another person to call instead, one who is more likely to respond? Should they try to arrange an in-person meeting if that is possible?
We live in a world inundated by messaging. This gives us many ways to communicate, which is a good thing—if you know the best way to reach the person you’re trying to contact.
How do you make it more likely that work team members will be able to communicate quickly with each other rather than waiting a long time for colleagues to respond with needed information?