The Medium and the Message

Effective communication requires that you first clarify for yourself what exactly it is that you want to communicate. Are you offering factual information that is relatively emotion-neutral? Are you delivering information that you can anticipate will bring up an emotional response? Do you want to express and get over your own emotional response to something? 

Clear communication also requires that you choose the right medium for conveying your message. Face-to-face is always ideal, because it allows for immediate response and feedback. You’ll know pretty quickly if the message you sent was the message that was received. Face-to-face conversation is the only effective option when the message you need to convey has a significant emotional content. Remember, we communicate on many levels other than verbal speaking-and-listening, and when our emotions are triggered, our brain is attentive to all kinds of signals, down to pupil dilation and how we smell.

When a face-to-face conversation isn’t possible, a telephone call can be an adequate, though not ideal, solution. Although you lose the context of facial expression and body language, talking by phone preserves the information conveyed by volume, pitch, and tone of your voice and by the pacing of your speech.

Great novelists are expert at conveying emotional content through the written word. For the rest of us, written communication is suitable only for providing factual information, free of emotional content. This includes emails, tweets, Facebook or LinkedIn posts – any medium in which your message will be read by someone at a distance. This is particularly true for communication in business or at work. In a work situation, one useful practice is to write out (NOT in your email program where you might hit “send” too soon) everything you want you want to say, including opinions, assessments, judgments, emotion, insults, “digs,” and so on. Then go back and delete anything that is not a statement of fact. Opinions, assessments, and judgments are statements of fact when they are prefaced with “I think . . .” or “My opinion on this is . . . “ Even so, keep the insults, digs, and emotions out of it. “Joe, I think that the analysis you’ve provided in this report incomplete. What I want is an analysis that addresses the following . . .” is ok. “Joe, what the heck am I supposed to do with this lame report you provided” may feel satisfying in the moment, but is that really going to get you what you want?