In his landmark 1964 study of communication theory, Marshall McLuhan famously suggested that “the medium is the message.” He proposed that the method used to deliver a message influences how that message is received. The theory seems especially relevant in an era when digital technologies present us with a multitude of ways to communicate with colleagues and customers.
Face-to-face conversations are the oldest and perhaps most consistently effective form of business communication, but social distancing and remote work requirements are making those interactions less practical. There are plenty of ways to compensate, however. Phone calls, text messages, emails, video chats, video conferencing, social media, online forums and more help keep lines of communication open.
The Right Communication Tool for the Specific Task
Each of these tools can be effective, but the medium can definitely impact the message. Text-based communications such as emails and instant messages are prone to misinterpretation due to the absence of context and visual cues. For example, how do you react when someone responds to a text or email with “OK”? Does it just mean they agree with you, or is there a veiled meaning? Apathy? Sarcasm? Aggression? Frustration?
The best communication channel for any message is the one that conveys the message properly with minimal chance for misinterpretation. Choosing the right method often depends on the nature of the message and the intended audience. Is it a formal or informal message? Is the content critical, informative or congratulatory? Are you trying to reach an individual or a larger audience? Is the recipient a customer, colleague, friend or employer?
Once you’ve gauged those factors, it’s helpful to consider whether your message requires real-time interaction (synchronous) with another party, or whether there is no expectation of an immediate reply (asynchronous). Following are just a few examples of how businesses can use each type.
- Face-to-face communication is particularly effective when the message is important or complex. In-person discussions build trust and stronger personal connections while eliminating a great deal of miscommunication. The ability to interpret non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures and body language improves the overall clarity of the message.
- The telephone remains the most favored business communication tool, largely because it is immediate, familiar and personal. Like the old Bell Telephone commercials used to say, it’s the next-best thing to being there. It’s great for both formal and informal communications because it enables a two-way dialogue, helping both parties feel that their message is being heard and understood.
- Video conferences are extremely useful when face-to-face meetings are not possible. They allow geographically dispersed users to share screens, files, data and presentations through software as if they were sitting next to each other. Video communications are particularly effective for interacting with large groups.
- Email is the go-to business communication option when there is no need or expectation for real-time communication or an immediate response. Although spam, phishing scams and more clutter our inboxes, studies consistently find nearly three-quarters of U.S. employees use email regularly. It is a familiar and easy-to-use tool for sharing information from anywhere at any time.
- Text messaging could be considered synchronous because it often results in real-time or near-real-time exchanges of short, informal messages. However, such immediacy isn’t required in texting. It is best used for sharing timely information, such as a new sales promotion or a note that you’re running late for a meeting.
- Social media is becoming an increasingly useful channel for communications that aren’t particularly time-sensitive. With a presence on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, companies can post “sticky” communications with target customers while building brand exposure. Social media also enables one-click connections with your customer service representatives.
A robust unified communications platform such as Mitel’s MiVoice Business provides the foundation for delivering these options. Embedded messaging, collaboration and mobility features allow you utilize a variety of advanced communication capabilities from a single solution. Call us to learn more about enabling full-featured communications across your organization.