What do people say are the three most important things in real estate? Location, Location, Location.
In a similar way, I would suggest that the three most things required to run a successful organization are: Communication, Communication, and Communication!
When I have the opportunity to conduct either customer or employee surveys, the number one area that both groups say needs to be improved is always communication. The goal of communication is to get a message transferred from the sender to a recipient, or group of recipients. There are a couple of keys to effective communication that will increase your chances of success.
- Understand the concept of “Life Filters.”
- Choose the right tool!
We all have a tendency to think that everyone else is just like we are. But, in a room of 10 people, there will be 10 different sets of “Life Filters.” A life filter includes things like: economic status, education, ethnicity, age, sex, nationality, faith, and other things, such as how you were raised by your parents. This combination of factors can influence how we interpret what others say. To ensure that the 10 people with different filters hear the message as you intended, we must remove any vague terms from our communication and be very specific with our words. Even terms like “ASAP” (As soon as possible) can be interpreted in different ways. For one person it may mean by the end of the day, for another it may be as soon as you can get to it.
The next critical part of successful communication is choosing the correct tool. There are often several choices when it comes to the proper vehicle to convey your message. They include: In Person Communication, Phone calls, Email messages, Email with attachments, or Instant Messaging (Texting or IM). The following is a short list of several of the factors to consider when choosing your tool.
- Nature of the message
- Availability for in person communication
- Length of message
- Time sensitivity
- Preference of the recipient
Nature of the message. When there is even a hint of controversy in what you are trying to communicate, it is always best to speak in person. If you are not physically near the other party, a phone call will work. Never choose email. Many people elect to send emails when they must communicate a difficult message. This is primarily because most people try to avoid conflict and don’t want to have a difficult conversation, so they hide behind email. The problem with using email is that it does not include an important part of communication: tone. It is easy to misinterpret words in an email without the tone and expression that comes naturally when you are having a face to face or phone conversation.
Availability. It is a reality of our world today that many transactions take place between individuals who never see each other. This could be because we are in different cities or even half way across the world. If you are in the same office, or it is possible to meet in person or have a short conversation, you should consider walking down the hall. I often hear of people on a team dealing with a challenging situation who work on the same floor in an office, and they conduct most of their communication through email. There is still something positive about a personal touch!
Length of Message. Another common communication error is using email for lengthy messages. Email is not the place for your college thesis! Email is best used to communicate short messages that can be summarized in short lists or bulleted phrases. If your message is more complicated and would involve multiple pages, it is best to write a summary or introductory email and then attach a Word document. If your topic of conversation will require back and forth dialog, it is best to pick up the phone. The rule of thumb is that if you exchange more than three emails on a topic without making adequate progress, stop the emails and make a call. Even when you conduct your communication in person or on the phone, it is still a best practice to summarize an in-depth conversation with a follow up email to those that are part of the conversation. This ensures that everyone understood the message and helps nail down commitments for follow up actions.
Time Sensitivity. One of the factors that often dictates the tool you choose is how urgent the communication is and how quickly you need to get a response. Although still not fully accepted in business circles, sending text messages is becoming more popular, especially with the younger generation. Texting is only recommended for very short, time sensitive messages. A phone call is good when you can reach the person and you need a quick response. Email is variable based on the response habits of the other party. Some people have email on their phone, and they won’t go more than 10 minutes without checking it. Others only commit to look at their email a couple of times during the day. Always remember to put an “Out of Office” notice on your email if you do not expect to respond within 24 hours, or one business day.
Preference of Recipient. The final factor to consider when choosing your tool is the preference of the other party. Especially when dealing with customers or clients, we must learn to communicate in a manner that they are comfortable with and prefer. This means you must ask and remember their preferred communication method. Texting may not be acceptable for some of your customers, even if it has become a normal tool inside your company. Some people will respond better to a call or voice mail while others are much more likely to answer an email.
Effective communication is a skill that will have a significant impact on your success in business and in life. If your goal is to be understood, work hard to craft your message using the tool that is suited for what you are trying to communicate.