Stop taking the easy way out when it comes to communication

When we want to communicate something to others, one of the most important decisions we have to make after deciding WHAT we want to communicate, is HOW. That’s where the communication “channel” comes in. In 1720, our options were pretty much limited to face-to-face communication or sending a written letter. In 2020, we have a lot of channels to choose from, such as:

  • Face-to-face (live or virtual)
  • Phone
  • Voice mail
  • Email
  • Text messaging
  • Instant messaging
  • Group video conferencing/calling
  • And more!

Unfortunately, many people make the wrong choice for the wrong reasons when it comes time to communicate. In fact, the biggest mistake I see people make is choosing the channel that’s most convenient for them without thinking of what’s best or most convenient for their audience or what’s most appropriate for the message.

At a time in our world where people are feeling more disconnected than ever before, how you choose to communicate can either create connection and cohesion or a sense of isolation and despair.

Let’s face it, 2020 has been a difficult year. I don’t think too many of us thought we’d still be social distancing and working remotely in October! As a result, in many organizations, communication between leaders and their teams has been reduced to email and text messages because these forms of communication are quick and easy, and let’s face it, we’re lazy. Another reason people turn to written communication forms is live, human interaction can often be uncomfortable, especially when the message being communicated isn’t welcome- such as negative feedback. As a result, people choose “Cowardice by Technology,” hiding behind their computers and phone screens sending messages electronically because they don’t have the ba . . . guts to either face others with bad news.

It’s time to stop taking the easy way out with communication and instead be more thoughtful in how we communicate with others.

Asking yourself these six questions BEFORE you choose your communication channel or method will help ensure more effective communication between you and others.

  1.  What’s the receiver’s preferred communication method? Using others’ preferred method, rather than your own, increases the chance of your message being received.
  2. How quickly does the information need to go out? If you have to get information to a large group of people quickly, email is probably faster than making a bunch of phone calls or getting everyone together for a meeting. If the information is just for one person, a call might be quicker than taking the time to formulate a well-written email or arranging a time to meet.
  3. Do I need a response quickly? If I need an immediate response, a phone call or text might be the way to go, especially if I know the other party doesn’t spend a lot of time at his or her desk.
  4. How complicated is the message? A complex message usually needs time to digest. At the same time, it may also generate a lot of questions. It may be best to send an email and follow up with a call or face-to-face, than to try to explain a complicated idea in a phone call. If the complex message needs to go to a group of people and will generate a lot of questions, it might be best to hold a meeting where everyone can hear the answers at the same time.
  5. How likely is the message to be misinterpreted? If the likelihood is high, then it might be a better idea to meet face-to-face, or pick up the phone, than to send a written message. That way you can answer any questions and provide clarification.
  6. Is the information personal or is it bad news? If the answer is yes, you should probably deliver it face-to-face, or if that’s impossible or will deliver the information too late, then contacting the person by phone might be best.

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Etiquette rules for the sidewalk? I know that sounds strange, so let me explain. 

A colleague recently called me and wanted some help. She said that she had been out walking and saw a couple approaching her on the sidewalk. She wanted to follow today’s social-distancing guidelines, and she realized that the other people were going to be too close to her if everyone continued walking straight. Her question: “Who should have moved over?” 

This question highlights an etiquette dilemma in our coronavirus-dominated world —to ensure adequate space between people outdoors, who moves out of the way when two or more people are sharing a walkway? 

This situation may arise more frequently as people are being encouraged to exercise. David Pogue, a correspondent for the television show Sunday Morning on CBS News, did a segment this week on How to live AND work at home without going stir crazy. His fifth rule was “Go Outside.” His suggestion was to take walks with people who live with you, but steer clear of others.

Obviously, etiquette concerns are nowhere near as critical as getting needed masks and respirators to hospitals, but having answers for day-to-day situations can help people to stay safe, and also give them a sense of having some control in our uncertain world.

Below are guidelines to help you safely navigate sidewalks and walkways shared with other people: 

1. Pay attention. Notice your surroundings and anticipate. If you are talking on the phone or texting, it’s easy to become distracted and not notice someone coming your way. If your view is obscured for any reason – such as when you are approaching a corner – you may be unable to see someone walking directly toward you. Be aware of that possibility, and proceed cautiously until you can see what’s ahead. You don’t want to bump into people!  

2. Who moves? If someone is approaching and you realize you’ll be too close when passing each other, what are you to do?  Generally, it is the responsibility of each walker to move to the right when passing so that there is at least six feet between you. If the person approaching you is walking with a cane, pushing a baby stroller, or struggling with agility issues, you are the one who should move out of the way. Bottom line: Don’t stand on ceremony. If you believe that someone will be too close to you, move over!   

3.  Walk single file. If you are walking side by side with someone – even if you are several feet apart – go to single file when passing others. If you don’t, you put the person approaching you in the awkward position of deciding whether to go around one of you or to go between the two of you. 

4. Don’t hog the sidewalk. If you block the walkway when you stop to chat with someone – from a safe distance! – or to let your dog do his business, it’s your responsibility to move aside and let other people pass.

5. Pass people carefully. If you want to pass someone, make your presence known. You can call out “behind you” or “on your left” so you don’t startle the person. You then move to the left, keeping your social distance. The other person can also move to the right, making it easier for the person who wants to pass.  

6. Greet others. People can hear a “good morning” or see a wave from six feet away. Even though we are social-distancing, we still want to be social. (See my blog on Greeting Others In A Social-Distancing World.) And remember, if someone says “hello” to you, good manners require that you say “hello” back.  

7.  Wash your hands when you return home. You don’t know what you might have touched while you were out. Frequent hand-washing is high on the list of recommendations for fighting this coronavirus. 

Additional information about etiquette and your career can be found in Barbara Pachter’s book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw Hill). Other books by Pachter include The Power of Positive Confrontation and The Communication Clinic

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on business etiquette, presentation skills, career advancement, professional presence, and business writing. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141.

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