In this short post, I’m going to reveal how to communicate effectively via remote media in today’s world.
Remote communication skills are more important than ever because of the current situation with the COVID-19 virus restrictions on people actually working together in a physical location.
Large numbers of people are working at home and managers are trying to manage long distance and they’ve never done it before so communication problems are likely to arise.
During the next few minutes I’ll explain some of the challenges of remote communication – and I’m going to give you some very specific suggestions on how to do it effectively.
Let’s start with the very basics. Human communication is made up of fifty five percent physiology, 38 percent voice tones and 7 percent words.
As you can see, the problem with this if we use media like texting and e-mail, we lose the 93% of the communication that is supplied by the physiology and the voice tones and these help us to accurately understand the message to somebody is trying to transmit.
This can create many different kind of problems depending on the type of communication that you’re engaged in.
Here’s the bottom line. To make up for the missing voice tones, the reader adds voice tones when they read your text.
These voice tones that they use when they read your text based communication (texting, IM, or email) tend to be whatever they have in their head, the state that they’re in, the frame that they’re in when they get your text communication. They take the voice tones that correspond to what they’re thinking about and they overlay it onto the text communication that you’ve sent them.
The Impact Of Missing Voice Tones In Remote Communication
When using text only communication, the written words take on additional importance because they have to convey the entire message. You no longer have the voice tones and the physiology to help convey the message.
This can create unintended consequences, conflict and untended misunderstandings as well as undetected and unknown misunderstanding. As the sender you can be absolutely certain that you’ve said what you wanted to say in a clear way but when the receiver reads it and overlay their voice tones onto it, they get a different meaning from your message.
You can see several examples of this in the video.
The Effectivness Of Different Media in Remote Communication
The blue bars on this chart indicate how effective the sender thinks they are being, and the orange bars indicate how effective they actually are.
What we can see is that with email, the sender thinks that they’re being fairly effective, but yet they’re only being 56 percent effective. The receiver only receives the message the sender intended 56% of the time.
This means that email fails 44% of the time!
If the communication is relatively unimportant, the impact will be minor – but if it is a crucial conversation, the consequences of misunderstanding can be devastating. You have probably already been involved in at least one email exchange (or IM or texting conversation) gone horribly wrong.
If you are going to use text only for a crucial conversation, you need to use additional words to compensate for the missing voice tones and physiology – and this takes extra time so using text only for crucial conversations is much slower than audio, video, or face to face.
The more important the conversation, the more important you use the most information rich media available.
When to use information rich medium
- The higher the consequence of being misunderstood, the more important it is to use an information rich media.
- The better you know the receiver, the less important it is to use information rich media.
- The faster you need to communicate, the better it is to use information rich media because it is faster to talk than it is to write.
How to decide which medium to use for a remote communication
My guide starts with Twitter which I consider to have the lowest information density of the communication media.
This is not because Twitter is inferior, it’s just not very dense. It doesn’t carry a lot of information. Twitter is great for what it is designed for which is delivering information. It is what it is and it’s for what it’s for.
However I wouldn’t recommend using it to negotiate a price increase with a client. Absolutely not, because it doesn’t contain enough information to allow them to properly understand the message that you’re sending properly – or you to understand their reply.
The next level is texting.
Texting and instant messaging are great for needs like simple yes or no questions, They are also good for multiple choice questions. And of course, you can still use these to deliver information. Simple messages like: “Hey, Bill, we’re having a meeting at two o’clock. I hope you can join us.”
Whether it’s a text on a phone, and IM or a message on a Slack or Teams channel it works great for these simple messages. It’s all you need because the message is crucial and not likely to be misunderstood.
Next on the list is traditional email which is a good choice when you’ve got more complex information or questions because it allows us to write a longer and more complex message. It also has more formatting options than simple texting or IM messaging so it can make a more complex message easier to understand.
The next choice is voice only phone which is an excellent choice if you need to have a discussion.
I know that in today’s world this is not the most popular solution, but an audio call gives you the 38 percent of voice tones as well as the 7 percent of words. And that goes pretty far toward ensuing understanding unless you’re in a critical conversation.
Finally, the most information rich choices are video platforms like Skype, Zoom, Go To Meeting which have free options available. And Salesforce, Slack, Teams and other more complex and expensive platforms that include the capability for video as well as audio and text.
I recommend any of these for the most crucial conversations where the consequences of a misunderstanding are high.
Simple mediums such as text and email are good for sharing information, but when the consequences of a communication misunderstanding are high, use a more information rich medium that supports video if you can’t arrange an in person meeting.