Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Love/Hate Relationship With Communicaiton Technology

Recently I read an article from FastCompany.com talking about how e-mail is going out of fashion in favor of social media and face to face conversations. After some closer reading and clicking through the articles links I found that really it's not so much that e-mail itself is going out of style but rather that there is a movement to change the style of e-mails. Some, like the Fast Company writer Steven Rosenbaum feel that we should go back to the oldfasioned postal letter to fix the problem. But, how many of us actually read the things that show up in our mailbox anyway? Regression is not the solution to this problem, but rather understanding the new implied rules for media messages.

Also, the people in this articles share several huge differences from me and the people I typically interact with: they make more money, and therefore they probably all have a secretary...or at least a shared administrator. For those of us who are an independent entity at work and at home, I feel like this is a more complex subject.

I was going to do some research and come up with a list of suggestions, but I'm trying to make this writing thing about my life and now what other people say, so I've decided to instead share some of my decision making process when it comes to the communication tool I choose. I'm terrible at navigating office politics, and since I'm not even in a real "office" so the rules other people tell me don't usually apply. I'm trying very had to work on this because I'm tired of just being angry that everyone isn't straightforward and action-minded like I am.

First and foremost, I will tell you that I hate the phone more than anything. And that I am only at work 3 days week so I can't always go to someone's office. And that I still don't understand the parents at my school because they are unlike any other group of parents I have ever worked with (that's a subject for a different time, and its a positive thing). And that I'm unreachable for 90 minutes at a time during the day every day I'm at work because I'm teaching. And that I hate the phone more than anything. All of these things make my situation a little weird, but I think the ideas are transferable.

Questions to as yourself when choosing the best mode of communication:

1) Am I trying to build an interpersonal relationship with this person?
Yes: DO NOT SEND AN E-MAIL
No: A short, concise but polite e-mail is all that's required.


Interpersonal relationships are becoming a focus of many conversations in business because computer mediated communication has created a world where they can literally be avoided all together. Penelopie Trunk quoted a Harvard Business School professor in saying that "It's hard to underestimate the impact of good social skills on your career. In fact, across the board, in a wide variety of businesses, people would rather work with someone who is likeable and incompetent than with someone who is skilled and obnoxious." This makes my heart want to implode because I'm not the slightest bit interested in being likable and I would always rather work with someone competent then someone friendly. But I'm weird and I'm working on getting over that.

So...that's why interpersonal relationships are important. And if you are working on building a professional relationship with someone use whatever you were tempted to write about as a reason to go pay them a visit. Besides, who doesn't mind being taken away from their work for a few minutes to chat? And there are some people it is okay if you only communicate with through e-mail mostly. There is a lady who works in the payroll office who I have met once (when I signed my payroll paperwork obviously) and her office is way across campus. It is perfectly reasonable to limit our exchanges to polite and concise questions and answers. Yes, you want to make friends with the people who do the paperwork, but there are some situations where the limited interaction can be handled in the form of e-mail.
*NOTE: Since I am not always able to walk down the hall to talk to someone, I make sure that I do send them an e-mail about something then I always mention it in person to them the next time I see them. I stopped my principal in the hallway yesterday to thank him for answering my question and explain why I asked it in the first place (both of which I actually did in the e-mail too). I am trying hard to get some legitimate face time with him because the future of me being bumped up to full time next year is all in his hands.

2) Am I complaining about something?
Yes: DO NOT SEND AN E-MAIL
No: See other rules for further guidance


If you complain to someone in an e-mail about something legitimate, especially if you are asking that person to do something about it, they are going to sit at their desk, slump their shoulders, probably swear under their breath and then MAYBE do something about it. It's a lot harder for someone to say no to you in person, it's a lot easier for them to explain to you why they are or aren't going to do anything about it, and it's a lot easier for a dialogue to develop about possible solutions. Your physical presence makes such a huge difference when it comes to persuasion.

NOTE: Sometimes when things are an immediate problem you can't go see that person. I had a student who already had missed a ton of school because she was on a traveling sports team. She lives in the dorms (yes, I work at that kind of school; I told you, I work at Hogwarts) and they had scheduled a photographer to come take her senior pictures DURING MY CLASS. In this case I sent an e-mail because it was the beginning of class and I needed something done within the next 35 minutes and I didn't have the option to step out of the room (for the student's privacy and pride of course) and make a phone call like I would have liked to. But I definitely made sure to go see the person I e-mailed after class in person and thank them for their action.

3) Should I CC or BCC a supervisor on an e-mail?
CC (Carbon copy): All recipients can see eachother
BCC (Blind Carbon Copy): those in the "To" box can't automatically see those in the BCC Box (this can be gotten around though, so don't count on it completely working)
Yes: It is an ongoing situation they already know about
No: It is something they will not have any idea why you are sending them something


Don't every make someone try and figure out why you are sending them something. They won't read it and they will think you are either not able to take care of your own work or you are just weird. If you have an e-mail that is in relation to something you would like to take to your supervisor (or, as is often my case, the parent of the student who e-mailed me) talk to them in person first and then you can CC/BCC them e-mails as things develop so they stay up to date. The most important thing is they should always know what the situation is so they have context when you send them things.

And the only thing you should really be sending them are things that are over your level off authority or things that are meant to cover your butt if the person on the other end of the e-mail goes to your boss because they are unhappy with you. An example would be that I forwarded an e-mail to my principal when a previous college professors asking if my school would be interested in hosting student teachers. I felt like it wasn't even my place to discuss the matter. Also, I have a student who is doing poorly and keeps sending me e-mails about work he hasn't done. I always BCC his parents (who are aware of the situation) on the e-mails I send back to the student because they they see both what he initially said and what he responded.

NOTE: If the conversation is not possible because of timing issues, forward them the e-mail you received with a note that says something like "I wanted to make you aware of this situation. I will come to your office as soon as class is over/the meeting is over/etc and I will further discuss".

4) Do you want someone to send you further information/information for future reference?
Yes: E-mail is a great idea if it is facts and details, not explanations
No: See other suggestions for guidance


My head coach is in the process of planning a trip for 20 students and teachers to Florida and yesterday she was in the process of collecting birth dates to order plane tickets. She first asked all the students in a meeting to e-mail her their birthday. Those who didn't in a timely manor she called and then asked them to e-mail the dates to her. She would need them a few times in the next few days so she wanted them written down for future reference. This is an excellent use of e-mail.

Other situations where this makes sense:
*You are confirming a meeting time/details/flight numbers/etc.
*You would like an exact spelling of a name, address, etc. But make sure you copy and paste the info into an address book/other file so you don't ever need to ask again.
*You are asking where to find something (a school policy, etc)
*You are requesting a digital copy of something, a e-mail address, a website, or other electronic thing

NOTE: This is also a subtle way to gauge how important something is to someone. Don't do it all the time, but if someone wants to talk about something for a long time and you need to be somewhere you can politely explain you need to go but request that they e-mail you with an available time to meet to talk further. If they don't e-mail you it apparently wasn't important.
Other general tips and tricks:
5) Don't leave a voice mail if you are trying to find someone: it will be untimely when they get the voice mail.
6) Don't leave a voice mail with a lot of detailed information unless someone asked you to (flight numbers, phone numbers, addresses, dates and times, etc). Do them a favor and "write it down for them" by e-mail it to them. You can always call and tell them you did this and they can either request it again over the phone if they can write it down or they can just tell you that it's sufficient.
7) Don't ever get someone's cell phone number from anywhere other than them. That is personal information so don't use it unless you were given it in person (or by a supervisor asking you to do something). The same is true for home phones for those that have them.
8) Do not use someone's work e-mail address for any personal matter, no matter how harmless. And remember, anyone who is a government employee or who works with children their work e-mail is confidential to when it comes to personal information, but it is also considered public record. You CAN send confidential information, but anything inappropriate, no matter how much of a joke it is, could get everyone involved in a lot of legal trouble.
9) Don't use colored letters or goofy fonts in any e-mail. If you are over the age of 9 it makes you look stupid.

And, last but not least, the most important thing I could ever tell you from my years of trying to figure out this proper channel of communication junk:

10) Some people don't like to be stopped in the hallway, some people would rather you talk to them when you see them then e-mail them and make things very formal. And some people would love to chat in the hallway for 45 minutes. Learn people's preferences. Their individual rules are more important than anything I could ever tell you.

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