Here’s a rough, not-yet-edited Chapter from my new book, The Systems Mindset: Managing the Machinery of Your Life, to be published in January. -sc

Texting isn’t Enough: Ten Communication Tweaks

Let’s consider an exception to the Ockham’s Law theory that the simplest solution is usually the correct solution.

More and more, in business and personal relationships, general communication is devolving into the texting mentality: bare-minimum information; quick, super-concise, interrupting…

I’m thinking we should join together to fight that slide. Care to join me?

The Ockham’s Law exception? It’s this: In business communications, please do get to the point…but don’t play the robot by taking communication protocols to ultra-brevity; to the brink of rudeness. In the midst of our too-busy days, we can contribute a minute or two to being friends, can’t we?

And in personal relationship communications, prattle on about your life a bit, even if we’ve just met. Tell me some small thing about yourself, and then ask me about me. It’s OK. Life is short.

And for crying out loud, in email, text or voice mail communications, if I ask you a question at least take the time to acknowledge it, even if you don’t answer it directly. Silence is not always golden. Keeping things simple and getting things done instantly are great rules of thumb, but when it comes to you and me connecting, let’s not get carried away…

Let’s get down to it. Here are ten hints for processing texts, email and voice mail messages. They’re to-the-point, but are friendly and calming:

  1. Anyone under 20 will roll their eyes at this: Use texting for only immediate time-sensitive concerns, and for family. Why? Because you don’t want to interrupt the other person for matters that can wait…and you don’t want to encourage others to interrupt you on a whim.  Don’t get sucked in.  Being able to focus for over ten seconds at a time is a good thing.  My tact is to respond to non-urgent texts with email. And when senders are insistent, I’ll tell them directly that I text for urgent matters only; to please email me. (Yes, I know: some of us, millennials particularly, don’t use email at all…and some also don’t have voice mail available to their callers.) Apropos reading regarding focus and concentration: The Shallows, Nicholas Carr. Also, Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihaliy. Both, classics of the genre.
  2. Point-of-Sale: When communicating via email, text or by voice, send your message or make your callback, now. Why? Because POS is almost always the most efficient way to do things and the person on the receiving end will appreciate it.
  3. Your smartphone: You know this already but I’ll say it again anyway: Don’t check for messages every spare moment that comes along. It will make you and the people around you crazy. Check messages every couple of hours or so. Maybe twice a day. Start carrying a book for those spontaneous times you get a moment to yourself.
  4. Never minding spam and unsolicited sales-pitches, and presuming there is some kind of connection already established, failure to respond to a message is rude. The perception will be that you don’t care.
  5. Thoroughly read emails you receive before responding. And carefully double-check your messages before sending. Are they clear, concise, and brief? Are there grammatical errors?  Do they make sense? To the person reading what you send, your message is you….
  6. Quantity vs. Quality: Seemingly contrary to the above, emphasize quantity over quality. In this instance, the quantity aspect has more to do with frequency than with volume of content. If there is brief but steady back-and-forth, the quality of the relationship will evolve. If in doubt about whether to communicate or not you should communicate, but rambling messages that contain more information than necessary or ones that keep repeating the same detail over and over again are a waste of time for both participants. In the workplace, the voice mail medium is particularly susceptible to fatiguing, inefficient messages. But then, a voice mail message can be faster and more meaningful than an e-mail message: sometimes a thirty-second voice mail will deliver a more effective message than a ten-minute-to-compose email. Whatever the communication method remember this: “A concise message is a great message.” Here’s my favorite communication tool, a combination of email and voice mail: Emailed Voice Mail (EVM).
  7. Regarding voice messages: An effective learning technique is to record and then review your part of a conversation. For most of us there is incongruity between how we think we sound and how we actually sound. A self-analysis can eliminate “yeah’s” and “yup’s” and “ya know’s,”” I mean’s,” “so’s, “umms,” deepen one’s voice, promote conciseness, and illustrate chronic, annoying quirks. Inefficient or annoying flaws can be eliminated almost instantly if one is aware of them (e.g. do you repeatedly say “absolutely,” or “I mean”?). Here’s more…
  8. Become a student of using the language correctly: e.g., pronounce “g’s” at the end of verbs, know the difference between “to” and “too,” etc.
  9. Don’t up-talk. This is the linguistic colloquialism of ending each sentence with an upswing in tone. Everything sounds like a question. Annoying! I declare a holy war against it.
  10. If you say you will do something for someone by a specific date, do it and do it on time. If something comes up and you can’t meet the deadline, tell the other party before the deadline.

For more, see Chapter Eighteen in Work the System.

Those are the brass tacks, mechanical and pointed. I believe Ockham would approve.

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography via flickr used under a creative Commons License.


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