Rating Four Forms of Communication

Do you find you have an internal rating system for the level of invasiveness in your methods of communication? I do. I’m talking about how much I feel like I’m bothering someone to ask a question. I supposed I’ve developed these levels based on the different personalities of SMEs I work with. One is so busy and overwhelmed with projects that I always approach with diffidence. I listen closely to see if it’s a good time. I’ve learned that he doesn’t like to switch gears quickly, so timing is everything.

Another is much more laid back, he is available on Skype, or for the drop-by visit most of the time, and never seems to mind answering my questions.

Without further ado, here are my rankings of communication methods based on my own perception of their invasiveness:

Level IV – Least Invasive: EmailAn open laptop is sitting on a silver table. On the laptop's screen is a large yellow sticky note with a smiley face drawn on it. On the table are also a sunflower in a yellow pot and a silver cup of black pencils.

Emails are the least intrusive form of communication. They are the equivalent of dropping a post-it on someone’s desk for them to respond to at their convenience. Of course, the standard email has handy features that can ramp up their aggressiveness with ‘Urgent’ and all caps “OPEN THIS NOW.” But in general, they provide the recipient some choice in the timing of their response.

PRO: Laid back, friendly, opportunity to think about what is being said and choose words wisely.

CONS: Can be ignored by the recipient. Sender never knows how long until an answer will be received. Not a good choice if something is time-sensitive.

Level III – Next Least Invasive: Drop-By VisitA person wearing a white shirt and grey pants is leaning against an open door to a man's office. We only see the back of the leaner. The man in the office is sitting at his desk working on a laptop, looking toward the door. He's wearing a light blue shirt.

Next up is the causal drop-by the desk. This way I can read the room, to see if I’ve arrived at a bad time. I poke my head in; if my intended subject is on the phone, we exchange nods, then I withdraw. I know they know I want to talk to them, and it is understood they will get back to me when they’re free. The ball is in their court. Now some might disagree that the drop-by is highly intrusive, and they’re right, depending on the level of authority of the drop-byer to the drop-byee. If the boss does a drop-by, it means drop everything you’re doing and pay attention. But I’m in a supportive role, so take that into context.

PRO: Works much better for verbal people. Some people are better able to express themselves orally than in writing. Face-to-face communication leaves less room for misunderstandings. Other visuals can be incorporated.

CONS: Some people don’t like to be interrupted by visits. One can always schedule a meeting if there needs to be more formality.

Level II – Penultimate Invasive: Instant Message (IM)A laptop is halfway open, with a large gold @ symbol on the keyboard.

Next is the IM. Like the head poke drop-by, the receiver can choose not to answer at their convenience. Plus, it has the added advantage (in Skype for Business, anyway) of signaling whether the person you wish to speak to is already in a meeting or away. The icon does pulse at you if you ignore it, making it hard to ignore. I mark this one higher than the drop-by visit because there’s no nonverbal communication involved.

PRO: Immediate response. Signals a small issue, or a quick question.

CONS: Can be overused, or since often viewed as less formal than an email, and more like a text, can be misinterpreted as people might write too fast. Important to use emojis.

Level I – Most Invasive: The Phone CallA dark-blonde woman in a black suite is on top of the desk answering a phone call. She has a look of surprise on her face.

Most intrusive is the phone call (Zoom call, Skype call, etc.). And depending on your generation, texts. As a Gen Xer I tend to treat texts like phone calls that need immediate response, but I have spoken to younger people who treat them more like e-mails.

The phone call, however, stresses urgency. When an SME responds to my email with a “We need to talk,” I jump right on the phone. Then there’s the clamor of the ringing phone and now we are speaking in real time. My customer service persona jumps to the fore and I can’t ignore a call from a client. Or maybe I just have major phone anxiety.

PRO: The most effective way to connect when distance is involved. Quick answers, the opportunity to ask questions and clarify.

CONS:  A phone call can catch a person in the middle of a project and require them to switch gears immediately. I appreciate it when someone sends me an IM that they’re going to call or sets up a time.

So, there you have it, my own four levels rated. They may not be the same for you. What are your go-to (and go-from) forms of communication?

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