Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Methods of Communicating: The Sender and Receiver

"Communication is...appropriate or inappropriate, never good or bad. Communication is always based on the realities of the sender and receiver. The closer the shared realities, the more likely the shared symbols will be congruent and thus more compatible." --P.S. Perkins, "The Art and Science of Communication"
I came across this quote while reading through the mentioned book for work, and it struck me as very important. On a side note, the book is a good resource. It brings up a lot of points that most people don't realize when involved in communications.

The book was written in 2008, so I had to wonder what Perkins would say about the current online environment in regard to effective communication, especially in the workplace. After searching online to get her viewpoint, I found this very interesting flow chart from someone who referenced the book. Dan Zambonini, a partner at Contentini, designed and posted a flow chart to his blog "The Januarist".

This chart helps you determine whether to use in-person communication or online in the business world. This issue has been raised by my fellow classmates in the past. "Is it appropriate to e-mail a follow-up instead of a phone call?" etc. Honestly, I'm not sure if the professors even knew the correct answers. The main issue for students and recent graduates when it comes to communication appropriateness is the process of getting a job.

It's a sensitive thing, communication. As a professional, it can be a "make or break" issue. Thinking back on Perkins' quote, the answers may become clear. The main aspect to consider is your receiver's "realities". Are they technologically involved to the point where it would be inappropriate to call an office phone, assuming they get their email on their PDA? Or is it inappropriate because they are the owner of a business and have little time to take dozens of calls? Truly, the flow chart is a great help in this matter. The first question it asks is, "Quick response needed? (Urgent)".

The quickest response possible is to ask someone in person. Then, you think of distance issues. So, second, is to call them (probably on their cell phone as it is usually with the person). Third is to text. Fourth is to email. (IM comes in here, too, but IM is being used less and less these days). This is how communication tends to go, that is, when you are in business with someone or have a relationship with them.

So, when trying to get a job or follow-up after an interview, it is a delicate matter and should almost always be dealt with by email. Letters are very classy and personal, but decisions are made quickly today, and a follow-up letter may be read a week after a decision is made. Phone calls are, in my opinion, viewed as "bothersome" today. People are very busy. Emailing gives them a "notification" per se, but gives them time to answer. It is the perfect communication tool, and has been for years. Now that everyone can get emails on mobile devices, it is possible for email to be immediate as well.

When thinking about the appropriateness of your communication, to "paraphrase" Perkins, put yourself in your receiver's shoes. You may want an immediate response in your shoes, but what does their day look like? Do they share that reality or sentiment? A phone call in the middle of it may be a frustration and ruin your chances.

Then, Perkins mentions congruency and compatibility. If you are a business owner writing to another business owner, the compatibility is already in place. However, much of a college graduate's communication is usually incongruent and learning to handle it professionally is a useful skill.

We always emphasize writing and communicating for your appropriate audience. So, we word things certain ways and speak in a certain manner, but do we use the correct method? This quote and Zambonini's flow chart made me think about the appropriateness of communicating with others as well as the method to use.

(P.C. Perkins is the founder and CEO of the Human Communication Institute, LLC.