Greetings fellow victims of the information apocalypse. It used to be, the goal of Inbox Zero was heroic, but achievable. Alas, that seems like such a long time ago. The rules have changed, and the playing field has changed as well. But before I take the leap and prescribe some new operating principals for how we communicate, let me first ask you to take a quick quiz to see if the new rules apply to you.
Have you found your self facing any one of the following three situations:
- A business associate/colleague has a work related question for you. On Saturday night, while your out at the movies or dinner, enjoying a rare moment of domestic bliss, your phone buzzes and you're received a text "Have a quick question: What's the Budget increase for the hamster-ball widget marketing spend, in fiscal 2018?"
- On a Sunday Morning, before your first cup of coffee, you get a Facebook message from someone you've never met, saying they're friends of a friend of yours, and would like to 'grab' a sandwich for an unspecified reason. They'll buy!
- You're on the jet bridge, about to take off on a six hour flight that doesn't have WiFi when you get a LinkedIn notification. The request, from a person you don't know, has an email address from a large company you've been pitching and are flying to see. You have six hours to stew about who this person is, and if it impacts the meeting your flying to attend.
We're all increasing the subject of unsolicited, urgent, time sensitive communications that blur the line between business and personal communication. No longer is Facebook just for for friends and family, nor is LinkedIn just for business. Our personal cell phone numbers now ring all hours, and text is increasingly become the most efficient way to reach someone, with the risk that for many that crosses the line and may be more intrusive than effective.
With that in mind, here's a checklist I use before I pick the appropriate mode of communication for a client or colleague.
How do they contact me? Are the people who perfect voice or text? Mirroring someone's communication preferences is an effective way to judge how to get a timely response.
How does their personal clock operate? For some folks, it's fair game 24/7? For others, their open for business weekdays till late, for other's it's still 9/5 -- thought that is fading fast.
Are you friends, or "Friends." It's easy to forget that the word friends has been blurred, and that sometimes a warm communication can cross the line, particularly in off hours -- and if it's not of a social or personal nature.
We've all made mistakes and crossed the line. I've had my cell phone ring at 3a.m., as I was two times zone's away from my office. Now, on one had the person calling me knew that I was six hours behind them, on the other hand... who can remember what time zone our always traveling colleagues are in? When in doubt, set your phone to do not disturb and answer texts and voice mails when the sun rises.
The other key element here is a change in how we think about what we're saying. No longer can we blithely embrace the evil CC, as it's clogging our inboxes and our brains.
So, three simple rules of the new communication ecosystem:
- Never send a link without context. Ie: I "like this site", or "this article has good data" is going to help the receiver understand the purpose of your Skype text or email. FYI doesn't cut it -- You need to tell me WHY this is relevant, or i'm not going to click on it.
- Deadlines matter. We live in a now or never world. So sending me a question or a task without a clear deadline is going to get you related to the 'later' folder, and for most of us 'later' means never.
- Every email is a Tweet now. 140 characters rule. Shorter is better. Bullet points are great. If there's more than one 'ask' in an email, you're likely to get no response.
It wasn't that long ago that business communication meant email. So we're all forgiven if we're trying to sort out texts, tweets, Facebook posts, messages, Instagram and LinkedIn, Skype not to mention the emerging world of SnapChat and other ephemeral communication. We know more about each other, where we are, what we're doing, and what we care about. But if knowledge is power, it also comes with great responsibility.
Communicate with care and you're sure to have good results. Communicate without concern for the recipient, and you may find a cold reception without knowing why.