A recent Harris Interactive survey for Whitepages.com released findings on what communication modes are most open to misunderstanding. Not surprisingly, 80% of adults found it most easy to misinterpret the tone of e-mail. Seventy-eight percent found text messages to be misleading, while 71% could also be put off by letters. Consider this: all these modes are flat, one-sided genres that allow the reader to intuit just about anything into the mix.
In our crazy busy world, how often do we automatically push the send key and instantly regret that action? Or how about the mistake of using upper case letters and the reader thinks he is being shouted at? Then too, in the rush to respond and be brief, single line messages can come across as terse, harsh and often inflammatory. Small wonder that e-mail might also stand for escalation and error.
Words are just that: words. But in the English language, the nuances of verbal inflection and facial expressions make all the difference in true communication. Read the phrase “What ever possessed you to come to this conclusion?” The text message version might even be “Are you nuts!” Chances are that you are already feeling a negative emotion as you read these words. Even letters run a 71% chance of being read incorrectly.
But let’s add voice to it. Imagine you hear a very neutral voice on the telephone asking the question, “What ever possessed you to come to this conclusion?” Imagine that you hear it as if a counselor were talking to you, coming from a place of inquiry rather than accusation. Your response would be quite different. For this reason, telephone conversations stand a 47% better chance of being correctly interpreted.
So telephone conversations are better but not the best communication vehicle. The amount of subtle and not-so-subtle meaning carried by the eyes and facial muscles is amazing. When face-to-face communication is used, the conversations are correctly understood 63% of the time.
With odds like this, the natural assumption is that leaders and anyone dealing with customers would spend more time in either face-to-face or telephone conversations. But both research and consumer experience indicates the opposite.
Bottom line: talk is not cheap – it’s priceless. The competitive edge does not have to be more bells and whistles on a CRM system or another layer of voice mail doom loops. For once, it’s not sophistication that’s required but rather a remembering that at the end of the day, people want to work for and buy from people with whom they have a relationship.
Here’s the most powerful mantra for creating that relationship: “Start talking and get to work!”