Not really a shocker, but a recent study done by Direct Line Insurance in the UK shows people tend to “fib” more often in texting and social network postings than in face to face meetings. As communication becomes less intimate, avoiding hearing and seeing each other as a message is conveyed, it becomes easier to stretch truths, omit facts, and even outright lie.
This is a crucial point for managers to remember, as well as sales and service reps.
I want to stress that I am not saying we should stop using IM. We all agree that IM, email, and the phone are not only important but absolutely necessary for efficient communication in today’s world. However, as anyone who’s been broken up with over the phone (or worse, by IM) can attest, it’s far too tempting to use asynchronous and distancing mediums to convey bad news, creative answers, and generally try to control information that really needs to be open and accessible.
This was a very interesting post Michael Arrington put up on TechCrunch yesterday. I myself am guilty of a one of the sins: I have a two-sentence limit on my IMs before I hit enter and continue…but I’ll explain myself at the end. The points he makes are very good and not just for Skype, so please check the link. (However, I suggest ignoring the bit about Skype’s screenshare, which I find abominable.)
Two things to remember when deciding how to use chat vs. video vs. phone vs. email are intimacy and immediacy. Video, being both intimate and timely, is often the last link in a chain of communication. Chat, on the other hand, being potentially asynchronous and less intimate, is often a stepping stone—the links that join other links in that chain. Or it can be the conversation itself. Email, by nature, is neither synchronous nor intimate; the recipient can respond whenever at arm’s length…or possibly filter it into their spam folder. Chat is great for moving in either direction. IM conversations can indicate needing to move a conversation to a more direct medium (video/phone) or a less direct one (email). Email can accomplish the same thing, albeit in a slower manner.
Regardless, Michael’s ideas can easily be summed up: Don’t harass. If the conversation is already engaged, ask if the other party is willing to escalate or pull-back on the conversation. Ask yourself what level of intimacy and immediacy is appropriate to the communication and the person in general. And remember, just because the communication is in an intimate form, don’t assume the environment of the recipient is. (Remember the example of the Skype call during a presentation?)
Since I promised to say why I often hit ‘enter’ after roughly two sentences: I sometimes get impatient when I’m involved in a mostly synchronous chat and after an overly-long period of time I receive War and Peace as an IM. Then the other person has to wait for me to finish reading this masterwork of American literature before I can craft a response. Assuming my chat partners feel the same, I serialize my great American novel rather than send it in one chunk. Unlike Michael’s ‘friend’, though, I at least try and get a couple sentences out…and I always read what they type back!!!
We’ve all been there. Someone sends you an email asking you a question. You respond and ask for some clarification. Three days of back-and-forth emails later, you get fed up with how slow the discussion is going and call the other person. Three minutes later, you both have all the answers you wanted, and now sit there wondering why it took three days to conclude a three minute conversation.
There’s unfortunately not a lot of hard evidence out there for how best to leverage our varying communication and collaborative tools. I can find studies that show video is nearly identical with face-to-face for gaining trust, but I’ve found little that shows which tool is best to use when. I hope we can open that dialogue here.
Before the tips, lets look at the mediums we usually communicate through: Video (with Audio), Audio only (phone/VOIP), email, and instant messaging (IM/chat/SMS).
We call the first two (Video and Audio) synchronous because there is an immediate dialogue; points are conveyed and responded to immediately. The latter two are asynchronous because each time content is conveyed there may be a significant amount of time before it is received and responded to. Each step in an asynchronous dialogue can take from seconds to days (or longer) to be conveyed. In sychronous communication, all parties are working simultaneously (synchronously) on the discussion, whereas in asynchronous communication, parties are working on different parts of the discussion at different times (asynchronously).
Now that we know the landscape, when is the best time to use each tool?