Tuesday, May 5, 2009

We don't talk anymore

It all adds up: communication is cumulative, and each different type counts for extra credit. This counts in a business context as much as it does in personal relationships, and I promise not to use the expression "over communicate".

An example: email has not replaced conversation any more than IM has. Formal, hard copy, letters are rarer now, but we communicate much more than we did even a few years ago. Emails tend to fall into two categories: there are long letter substitutes, and the short snappy exchanges. The letter substitutes can either be rambling business ones that would have benefited from editing, punctuation, and paragraphs, or personal ones a bit like the family annual repors that some people put into Christmas cards. With the long ones, you can often hear the writer's voice in the style.

The shorter ones are closer to an IM chat, where the exchanges, usually limited to two or three people, tend to be short and sharp. The nature of email is that you get as much time as you need to come up with something original to type, so the correspondence has a witty, unreal quality, rather like dialogue from 'Friends'. The problem with these things is that they can go on for ever. I just had to set up a meeting to avoid being locked into an eternal email loop - at least with a deadline we can reach a final conclusion.

Two things to remember with email:
  • If you're steaming, sleep on it - before sending it, re-read it and edit for vitriol.
  • Electronic lives for ever - unless you have known the recipient for 20 years, then assume it's going to be seen by the wrong person eventually - ask yourself "could this come back to haunt me?".