Studio 5 Relationship Coach Matt Townsend shares tips on how to improve your electronic communication.
Technology is not only changing the way we communicate, in some cases it’s changing our relationships. That’s because often, by removing that face to face contact, you also remove a layer of connection – and even sensitivity. Here are a few tips to keep those electronic communications personal.
Choose the Method that Matches the Message
A client came in and related to me her experience of breaking up with someone she had been dating. She couldn’t face him with this bad news so she sent him a text. “You’re a really great guy and you have a lot to offer, but it is just not working out between us.” Now, texting is a great tool in a relationship. In a new or existing relationship, it is a good way to stay in contact and connected throughout the day, but I’m not sure it is the right medium for ending a significant relationship.
The reality is that some messages demand more personal methods of communicating than others. To deliver any bad news such as laying someone off of their job, breaking up a long-term relationship, apologizing for something, or delivering feedback that is difficult to hear, you might want to do it face to face. The key is to determine your real goal and intent. Is the goal to connect, communicate or just stay in contact? Here’s a simple guide that might help.
• Connection: requires more face to face communication. Use for highly important, timely & personal messages.
• Communication: includes longer emails or phone calls. Use for important, urgent and personal messages.
• Contact: includes texting, IMing, Facebook. Use for less critical, urgent or unimportant topics.
TIP: Choose the Method that Matches the Message
Evaluate your goal and your message. Is it to connect, communicate or just stay in contact? This will help you determine the type and length of message you should deliver.
Put the Context into the Conversation
All conversations have a past, present and future and need to be placed in context so that the people in the conversation can quickly understand what the conversation is about. An excellent example of creating context in our conversations took place when my wife, Mardi, posted an internet advertisement to sell an old violin she hadn’t played for 30 years. She posted it for sale on ksl.com. The problem was that she forgot to tell me and then I was the one who answered the phone call of someone inquiring about the violin. I could hardly remember we even owned a violin and I certainly didn’t know it was for sale. The conversation went something like this.
“Hey I’m calling about the violin.”
“Huh?” I replied, thinking they meant the piano lessons my daughter teaches. “You mean piano?”
“No, the violin. I’m calling to find out if the violin has been sold.”
“What violin?” I asked.
“The child’s violin,” they responded.
Back and forth we went getting more deeply entrenched in the confusing conversation without context. It all could have been avoided if they had just created a simple context for me by saying, “I’m calling about the ad Mardi placed on KSL for a child’s violin. I’m just wondering if it has been sold yet.”
TIP: Put the Context into the Conversation
Creating the context can be done in many settings. For example, when you speak publicly or teach a lesson and someone asks a question, you can repeat the question so everyone can hear the context for your answer. Also, when replying to an email or text, make sure you restate their question when answering. If they ask more than one question you might simply say, “Ok, here are my answers to your questions in the order that you asked them. #1 Did I get your message last week? Yes, I got your message and…”
Remember the Power of Permanency
How many times have you said something that you wish you could take back or erase from another persons memory? The problem with today’s technologies is that they seem more transitory and disposable than they really are. Remember that all messages whether they’re left on voicemails, emails, on Facebook, or sent by text are now permanent and can be stored by others forever. Copies can be made and forwarded with ease in both digital and paper form.
This is really an issue on Facebook. We went to Disneyland over the Christmas break and my kids, who apparently don’t understand the power of permanency, posted on Facebook that we were going to be gone on vacation. Our house got toilet papered twice while we were away! I have also seen this problem on Facebook when people carry out an argument on the wall of Facebook or post stories and pictures from Vegas that maybe should have stayed in Vegas.
Be careful what you chose to write because one poorly thought out email, text, or post can have far reaching affects. I’ve coached dozens of couple’s whose email conversations or text messages became evidence that they can’t be trusted or were not being faithful.
TIP: Remember the Power of Permanency
There is power in the permanency of our communications and that power can help you create positive messages or can keep you from sending the negative ones. Avoid writing comments about others that you’ll regret by writing only things that are okay for everyone in your family to read.
Live the Mottos: Less Is More and Fast is Friendly
In a world of information overload with most of us receiving countless emails a day, not to mention phone calls, text messages and snail mail, less truly is more. It’s time to get good at deciding what information really matters and communicating only the important stuff. Remember that not all information has the same value and just because we have the ability to communicate more doesn’t mean we really should.
As a writer, I’ve found that shorter paragraphs usually have more impact and are much more likely to be read than longer paragraphs. I once had a client that would send me 4 – 6 page emails on a regular basis, expressing her side of each story in their marriage and expecting me to read and remember them all and be prepared for the next meeting together. I found it hard to find the time to read the lengthy emails. It would have more efficient for me, and for her, if she could have just sent a short paragraph detailing only the most important pieces of information.
One way to live by the “Less is more” motto is to focus on the speed of return. Not only do you need to keep the communication short, you should also focus on getting back to people sooner rather than later. Remember that fast is friendly. Many times I try to send a short note back to the people, answering their questions with focus and clarity. One of the biggest benefits of today’s communications is the fact that it is so efficient. In fact, in my busy world when people want to contact me, my assistant suggests that they send an email. That is a method of communicating that I can respond to no matter what time of day or night.
TIP: Less is More
The average attention span in an adult is about 24 seconds. Try writing your communication to keep someone’s attention for only about 24 seconds.
TIP: Fast is Friendly
You don’t need to be obsessed with a speedy response but just be cognizant of it. Try to respond to people in a timely manner.
Focus on People
This last key has a universal application to all the rest. The ultimate goal of our contact is to be able to connect with another person. In all of our electronic communication we need to make sure to use words that are personal and connect with the other person. When you leave a phone message, remember that someone on the other end will be trying to respond. Speak slowly and repeat the important information. I can’t tell you how many times at my office we have to replay a message 4 or 5 times just to decipher the message.
When you send an email, remember to be personable. Don’t respond like you’re talking with the formality of a government agency or the cadence of a robot. People need to be treated like they’re living, breathing, “real” people. Insert little pieces of information and insight that shows you personally know the person you’re talking to. The goal is to connect and create closeness. With all your electronic communication, remember to focus on creating healthy relationships.
TIP: Focus on the People
A quick way that I have found to do this is to do one final read through of every email looking for the connection factor. Is the communication one that I would like to receive? Did I succeed in my objective of reaching out on a personal level, or does it sound like I was writing a business letter? Did I end the communication with a positive statement of regard? Am I truly connecting to the other human being in this conversation, regardless of the purpose or the goal of the contact?
Date Night with Matt Townsend
“Celebrating the Differences in your Partner”
Friday, January 14
7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
$35 per couple
Location: Noah’s in South Jordan