Do you know when to text versus email versus pick up the phone? What about virtual versus face-to-face meetings? Andrea encourages you to think beyond your default media and consider the WHO, the WHAT and the WHY when choosing the ideal communication medium.
“MEDIA” or “MEDIUM”?
Dr. Andrea Wojnicki & Talk About Talk
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I have a question for you. What medium do you typically use to communicate you’re your customers or clients? With investors? With colleagues? When you’re at work, what’s your default? Do you email? Do you pick up the phone? Do you walk over to someone’s office? How do you communicate? What media do you use?
In this short episode, I’m going to encourage you to think more strategically about which medium will help you optimize your communication. Many of us fall into the trap of always using our default medium. Others of us aren’t quite sure what’s best. It’s not always obvious.
This is a really common question that I get.
As a matter of fact, yes Mike, I do have some advice that I hope will help you. Let’s do this!
We’re going to break this topic down into two episodes. In this episode, we’ll focus on how to decide which medium to use. In the next episode #119, we’ll focus on best practices for each of these media. Things you can do to up your email game, your phone game, and so on. I’m going to share with you my top tips to optimize your communication in each of these media.
But right here and right now, you’re going to learn under what conditions should you text versus email versus pick up the phone versus online meeting versus in person. WHEN is each of these media are ideal.
First, let me say, if you’re a frequent TAT listener, HI! And thank you for listening! On the other hand, if this is a first for you, let me introduce myself. I’m your executive communication coach, Dr. Andrea Wojnicki (please call me Andrea!). I’m also the founder of Talk About Talk. If you’re an ambitious executive with a growth mindset, then you’re in the right place.
If you go to the Talk About Talk.com website, you’ll find many resources to help you out. There are online courses, tip sheets, corporate workshops, one-on-one coaching, the archive of this bi-weekly podcast, AND, I really hope you’ll sign up for the Talk About Talk communication coaching newsletter. That newsletter is your chance to get communication coaching from me every week.
One other thing before we get into this. You don’t need to take notes, because I do that for you. I summarize everything at the end. AND You can check out the transcript in the shownotes, which are on your podcast app and also on the talkabouttalk.com website. As always, I got you covered. Just keep doing whatever you’re doing: walking, driving, doing housework, or lying on the couch. Trust me, I know because I do all these things too when I’m listening to podcasts. I just want to remind you that you don’t need to take notes because I do that for you. You’re welcome.
Alright let’s get into this. I’m excited to help Mike encourage his team to be more thoughtful about their communication media.
Which medium you choose to employ is important. WHY? Well, as they say, the media is the message. Actually, as one of my workshop participants recently pointed out, it was Marshall McLuhan, who coined this phrase. And it wasn’t “the media is the message. Rather, it was, “The MEDIUM is the MASSAGE.” Yes, you heard that right. “The MEDIUM is the MASSAGE.”
Two things about that point.
- A bit of trivia about Marshall McLuhan – McLuhan was a Canadian philosopher and English and media studies professor who, in 1967, wrote a book called “the MEDIUM is the MASSAGE.” He was a bit of an academic rock star, and if you’ve ever seen Woody Allen’s movie “Annie Hall,” then you’ve seen Marshall McLuhan. He does a cameo in that movie where he plays a pompous academic, who says “You know nothing of my work.” Apparently this was a line McLuhan often used when his work was criticized. Wow. What a character. So that’s the first thing.
- The full title of MM’s book was “The Medium is the MASSAGE: An Inventory of Effects”. Nowadays, we commonly use the phrase “The media is the message.” As a communication coach I want to elaborate on two terms in that title. MASSAGE and MEDIUM.
- MASSAGE: McLuhan said “MASSAGE” provocatively to highlight how the media through which we communicate is decoded through what he called ”the human sensorium”. You can think of this simply as your senses. You see things, you read things, you hear things, and so on.
- The other term is MEDIUM: Whether you say MEDIUM or MEDIA depends on several factors. Regardless of these factors, I want to point out that I hear a lot of people simply using the term MEDIA. However, I also understand some of the etymology of these terms. Our language evolves. Usage of these terms MEDIUM & MEDIA is one fascinating example of this.
- Whether to use the term MEDIUM or MEDIA depends on the context. Are we talking about media as in journalists? as in media reporters? Or are we talking about people who talk with the dead? (That would be medium). As a painter, people often ask me “what medium do you use?” Whether it’s singular or plural, if the context is ART, it’s Medium.
- Technically, the latin word MEDIUM is singular and MEDIA is plural. If you’re ever in doubt, I suggest you just say MEDIA. If you’re a nerd like me and you found this little lecture fascinating, I included some links to resources in the shownotes. Otherwise, just remember MEDIUM is singular, MEDIA is plural, and the scale in our modern language seems to favour MEDIA.
Whew – OK – let’s shift gears and focus on when to use what media. Back to my original Q for you: When you’re communicating at work, which medium is your default?
At the beginning of this episode, listener “Mike” shared how his team’s default seems to be email, even when a short conversation or perhaps a meeting would be more ideal.
If you’re younger, Gen Z or maybe GenY – the Millennials, your media default is more likely to be text. Or maybe email for work. I certainly get the appeal of texting and email. They are asynchronous. They are convenient. If you’re older – say GenX or a boomer, your media default is more likely to be the phone. Or in person.
Regardless, I encourage you to take a step back and consider that, as Marshal McLuhan said, the medium is the massage. Or as we more commonly say today, the media is the message. I encourage you to be more disciplined about how to optimize your communication by strategically choosing the ideal media. Maybe Mike, who called in and recorded his Q for me, can encourage his team members to listen to this episode and be a little more strategic about their media choices.
I have something for you that I think you’re going to like. It’s a simple framework to help you identify the optimal media. It’s basically a checklist. Three things to consider. (OF COURSE it’s three things!)
Are you ready? It’s WHO, WHAT and WHY. That’s it! When you’re deciding what medium to employ, consider the WHO, the WHAT and the WHY. Let me tell you what I mean.
First WHO. With whom are you communicating? You can optimize your communication by considering the other person, rather than being selfish and always reverting to your personal default.
Consider the other parties with whom we’re communicating. What’s their preferred method of communication? What’s THEIR default? How much more responsive will they be to your message if you employ their default?
This reminds me of a conversation I had with my 15yr old son. I was giving him grief about not responding to an important email. His response floored me. He said “Mom, no one ever emails. No one. Ever.”
OK – maybe what he meant was that no 15yr old boys check their email. I’ll give him that. Of course age is important.
So in terms of this first criterion to consider when choosing your medium, the WHO, think age. Younger folks (Millennials) are digital natives, and are often most comfortable with texting, for example. Older folks might be more inclined to use the phone. Or maybe they want to meet in person. …I’m thinking this might partially explain the debate about working remotely versus hybrid versus going into the office.
But the WHO in this checklist of what to consider when choosing your medium isn’t just about age.
This WHO could also include whether you’re communicating with an individual or a group. If it’s one person, a text message or a quick phone call might be ideal. If it’s a group, an email (where you can CC people) or a meeting (whether online or in person) might be ideal.
Also in terms of WHO, think about proximity or location. If the person or people are far away, an in-person meeting is more costly and time consuming. But if it’s the person in the office next to you, an in person meeting is probably ideal.
One last important thing to consider when it comes to the WHO. It’s the stage of the relationship you have with that person. Certainly things are changing, but generally Face-to-face is ideal early on when you’re first establishing a relationship. Then later on, texting and email can maintain that relationship. Makes sense, right?
OK, so that’s the first thing to consider when choosing your medium, WHO.
The next thing to consider is WHAT. As in What’s the topic? Is the topic CONFIDENTIAL? Is PRIVACY a concern? If yes, then a phone call or a meeting is a much better idea than an email or a text, where everything you say can be easily shared broadly.
Also, is the topic emotionally sensitive? I always think about the whole cliché about people breaking up through texting, and the insinuation about how insensitive this is. If the topic of the communication is emotionally sensitive, then in-person wins. Why? Because you can see body language and you can hear tone of voice. For emotionally charged, sensitive topics, you want to be able to see and hear what’s going on beyond the words.
So that’s the second point to consider when choosing your media. Now we’ve covered the WHO and the WHAT. The third and last point to consider is the WHY.
The WHY is really about context. Here’s a relatively easy Q. Is it URGENT? If so, setting up a meeting – virtual or in person – is probably not the best option. Unless, as I just mentioned, you’re only meeting one person and they’re situated in the office next to yours).
If the topic is urgent, think about what medium the person is most likely to respond to quickly. For some people that might be a phone call. For others, it’s a text. It depends on the person.
Oh – and speaking of urgency – don’t be like the infamous “boy who cried wolf” and mark everything as urgent. More on that when we talk about “best practices” for each of these media in the next episode, ep.119.
Also in terms of the WHY, you should ask yourself what your goal is. What’s your objective? Why do you need to communicate? If it’s a status update, email is probably fine. But if you need to collaborate, or brainstorm, or if there’s a complicated decision that needs to be made, then some sort of meeting where there’s instantaneous dialog is probably better suited. Sometimes, a meeting can be much more productive and efficient than a long string of emails.
I have a feeling this is exactly the context that was frustrating Mike, the manager who called in asking for help with his team. As Mike said, “sometimes a single conversation or a meeting would solve a problem in less time and with less confusion.”
Here’s what I recommend, Mike.
First, Ask your team to challenge themselves to choose the ideal communication medium, rather than just using their default, which it sounds like is email.
Then, ask them to consider the WHO the WHAT and the WHY associated with the communication.
- The WHO as in the person’s age, what their communication media default might be, but also whether it’s an individual or a group, their proximity or location, and even some nuance like what stage your relationship is at with that person.
- Then there’s the WHAT, as in the topic. Is it confidential? Is privacy a concern? And is it emotionally sensitive? This is all important when choosing your media.
- And last there’s the WHY. As in is it urgent? And is it a simple status update or is there collaboration, brainstorming or decision- making that needs to happen.
I hope that helps Mike! A simple, 3 point checklist for you to consider when you’re choosing what media to employ in your communication.
Thanks to Mike for asking this great question. If you’d like to ask me a question, I’ve made it su[er easy for you to do so. Just go to TalkAboutTalk.com, and you’ll see a button that says “Record Your Q for Andrea.” Click it and talk. That’s it!
And that’s it for this episode. If you enjoyed this episode, I hope you’ll recommend it to your friend who would also like to improve their communication skills.
Thanks again for listening. Talk soon!
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