Do you know when to use the phone or email? What about text, social media, and face-to-face meetings? How do you feel when you hear the phone ring? In this podcast episode, HR expert Tamara Finlay shares advice and frameworks to help you choose the ideal communication media or platform to optimize your communication.
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Talk About Talk & Dr. Andrea Wojnicki
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Dr. Andrea Wojnicki: Thank you so much for joining us, Tamara.
Tamara Finlay: It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for including me.
AW: Okay, let’s back up and provide some context. First, what are the main media that you’ve observed people using at work – to communicate?
TF: Now obviously, there’s all kinds. There are all your typical ones, like email, text, chats, everything else. The list continues to grow, and nothing’s falling off. I think that’s where we’re, all of a sudden, the pace of change is just so rapid fire. As our world gets faster and faster and more complicated, I like to bring it back to basics. Why are we communicating? We’re communicating because we want to connect with people. We want to connect either intellectually, or emotionally, or to do something – more the action piece of it. It’s either the head, the heart or the hands. Depending on what you’re trying to engage, is going to depend on what communication style or what communicate channel you’re going to use. So if you’re trying to engage the head, you’ve got a lot more communication channels that you can use, you can pretty much use most of them. Whether it’s email, text, or face to face in meetings, pretty much any of it works. But when you’re trying to connect with the heart, it’s all about emotions. It’s all about relationships. Nothing beats that more than in person, face to face, because 55% is body language, right? And you lose all that. And that’s why there are so many misinterpretations – when it’s heavily email or text or other communication methods, other than the face to face.
AW: And if you’re in a sensitive context, as you said, if it’s emotional or heart driven, then perhaps that nonverbal communication is even more important.
TF: Exactly. Because you want a bit of more of the two way dialogue. It’s really hard to have two way dialogue in an email or a text.
AW: That’s a great point!
TF: And then the hands … so the three H’s or the head, heart and hands, the third one is the hands, that’s really where you can be quite directive, task oriented, and that’s really where the written word is fine. And that’s where emails, chat, text is absolutely fine.
AW: Okay, so the hands just to clarify is about what we’re doing next, it’s clarifying next steps, for example, in a project at work could be could be a subordinate clarifying next steps with his or her boss or vice versa.
TF: Exactly, or an event just confirming details, location, that type of thing.
AW: Okay, you said so many things there that caught my attention that we could unpack. Your first point about more and more medium being introduced into our communication opportunities. Of course, that’s true, but I hadn’t actually thought about the fact that we are being overwhelmed with more and more apps, platforms, and different communication medium and nothing’s falling off.
TF: It’s so true. And it’s interesting because having worked my entire career in more mature organizations that are quite traditional in terms of how we approach work… When I joined a FinTech company just over a year ago, I had quite a bit of culture shock. So I was used to somewhat less paper. But this was literally no paper, all the offices or cubicles were open spaces. They were lucky you got a drawer. So clearly, it was all on the digital in one of our key communication tools is Slack. Now, it’s I think they would describe as a collaborative team tool. We use it for pretty much all our internal communications. You can do it individually as text messaging, you can do it as groups, which are called Slack Channels. And I’m embarrassed to say that it took me probably over a month to figure out you could actually call through Slack.
AW: Oh, really, I didn’t know that. So just for some other context here, I have an episode on conquering your email inbox and Slack came up as an opportunity – as a technology hack – to conquer your email and I read in a couple of articles that is widely used within organizations. And previously, some industry observers or analysts thought that it may replace email, but it certainly isn’t doing that. But it sounds like it’s alive and well and doing well. You tell me: Does it work?
TF: I think it’s fantastic. It’s certainly what I love. It was actually refreshing once I kind of figure it out. And you can also attach items to it as well – like a document and what have you. And you can delete it and remove it if it’s highly sensitive, confidential. So that’s obviously a lot of the work that I do. What I love about it is that it’s all internal. So if I’m looking or referencing back to anything from anyone within the organization, I go to Slack. Email typically is just for external. Okay, so this is really new to anyone over the age of 30, I’m sure or anyone who’s not in a startup environment. Quite honestly, it’ll take a while before large organizations. I’m sure there’s groups within larger organizations that are using it.
AW: The other thing that you mentioned, your head, heart and hands framework is absolutely beautiful. It’s probably an effective way of just making a simple decision about what communication tool you can use. So as an HR professional, do you hear from people or perhaps have observed them failing to use the most effective communication mediums? So – not thinking about the three H’s?
TF: Of course, I think we all get caught up in that. And unfortunately, being in human resources, we often see the negative impact of that and the unintended consequences.
AW: HR is not hearing about the great wins. I mean, unless someone’s formealy winning an award probably, right? But they’re not coming to you saying, guess what we did great today? They’re coming with problems.
TF: Right, exactly. A lot of the time we’re cleaning up messes quite frankly.
AW: have you heard of situations where either people are complaining about other people not using their communication medium effectively, or that was your diagnosis? So there’s something catastrophic happened within the organization. There was something blew up and then your diagnosis is well, you know what it may have been because of the communication medium they should have been face to face when they were using text …?
TF: For sure. Obviously, that’s more of a regular occurrence. As we get more and more communication channels. One of the things that we try to do is understand about behaviors. But what’s coming across and is being communicated to us is about a person.
AW: So in your experience in helping people to communicate most effectively, have you noticed a correlation between age and media preference?
TF: I think the reality is Millennials are the first generation that have grown up with the internet right? So obviously, their natural go to and obviously gross generalizations is: quick text and things on their smartphone, and all that. But just like with any other generation, you’re going to get the full spectrum. And as a Gen X, I love texts. Being in the right circumstances.
AW: So we shouldn’t be stereotyping broadly that everyone in Generation Z is a certain way everyone in Generation X a certain way, Millennials act a certain way. But they’re probably, as you say, are some general trends. One of my listeners, actually on social media , was sharing his story about personally hiring a contractor. And this gentleman is in his, I think, his early 70s. He’s working full time, highly productive, and he went to hire a contractor and this contractor insisted on emailing and texting him and he’s like, we need to talk. He said, I gave him three shots where I said, we can set up a meeting, or you can call me again, we can set up a meeting or you can call me three times and then he said, I just let it go. I went to another guy. Yes, he was older. He came and saw me. We communicated through telephone, and he got the job. So I mean, there actually is something at stake here. To me, that story illustrates a gentleman who was trying to provide an olive branch. Like talk to me on my terms and here’s what they are, and it was ignored, and then the guy didn’t get the job.
So I think it’s a valid point. It’s a two way street. Again, know your audience, regardless of the age of this gentleman, he preferred to communicate in person. If this is your boss, and it’s a preferred communication style, you learn to adapt. Well, I actually created an acronym, ACE.
AW: I love acronyms! I love it. Because it’s helpful to remember right?
AW: an acronym. Let’s do it.
TF: Exactly. So it’s: know your AUDIENCE is the A. And it could be an individual or a group, what’s their preferred method of communication? And then the C is CONTENT. So why are you communicating? Is it confidential or not? And what is it that you’re communicating?
AW: And that also could be the head heart and hands thing? Yes?
TF: Yeah, exactly.
AW: Beautiful. So you actually have your three H framework coming into your Ace acronym. I love it.
TF: Exactly. And then the E is the ENVIRONMENT. A lot of the work I do is confidential. If I want to have a confidential discussion, knowing that the person that’s on the receiving end is in a car with a bunch of other people, I clearly don’t want to do it that way. I may choose to do a text or schedule some other time.
AW: Brilliant. When you and I were preparing for this interview, I independently created a list of criteria for choosing the most appropriate and effective communication medium. And you’ve just gone through how you can use this as framework. But are there any other specific criteria?
TF: Sure, email is a great tool. If you’re really confirming decisions that were made, made steps next action items, if you want to go back and reference something that’s actually a great tool.
AW: So that would be – in your three H framework – that would be the hands.
TF: Okay, exactly. And then there’s handwritten or typed letters. Again, this comes back to what I said at the beginning where we just keep adding stuff but nothing’s coming off. Some people may have forgotten about that. And in fact, as I thought about this is like, could you even recognize your colleagues or friends handwriting at this point?
AW: Interesting question. Yeah. So think of the impact that would have though, if you actually gave someone a handwritten note, because it’ll blow them away.
TF: Exactly. And really you would stand out. For sure. It depends on what you’re trying to do. Then phone calls and face to face. Again, that’s where you’re coming back to that’s more of the heart. If you want to connect emotionally, if you want to brainstorm if you want a two way dialogue, that’s where that’s probably the best use.
AW: So another way of putting that I think, is if the tone really matters, of course, tone always matters. But if the tone really matters, if something sensitive, and you want to capture people’s body language, that’s where it comes into play as well. Got it.
TF: Now. One of the downsides of that is which is really about collaboration. It just takes more time. So you have to factor that in and build that in and that’s why the other thing is – I think people are defaulting to the text or what have you. Because it’s fast, but what it does is it takes it off your plate and puts it on someone else’s plate, and you have no idea if they’ve actually caught that ball.
AW: This is a slight diversion from this list of communication media options, but you’re making me think about the implications of people working at home.
TF: So you know, what’s interesting is if you do it remotely all the time, absolutely, and I know of a company how they’ve done this – because they’ve got a lot of remote workers around the world, which I found fascinating. They have designated robots with video cameras that you can control remotely to do your drop ins.
AW: Oh my gosh, we need to add this to our list of media.
TF: Exactly. It is a bit mind blowing. But where there’s a will there’s a way.
AW: wow, you know, where I thought you were headed. I thought you were gonna say on the two days per week when you’re at home, you do as much as you can on email, a little bit on phone, think about the things that you can’t do face to face and then on the two or three days when you’re in your office, of course, that’s when you both your formal meetings and you do your informal lunches or dropping by someone’s office to say hello or to share something.
TF: Absolutely, that’s where you just have to be very diligent and really make a concerted effort. It’s really hard to build relationships remotely, it’s easier to maintain remotely. So even if you’re a remote worker, it’s if you can have that initial period of building. So whether you go there on site for a brief period of time up front, then it’s much easier to do that.
AW: That could also be a criteria for choosing the media, right? So one of the other criteria that you can use for deciding which medium is most appropriate and effective is the stage of the relationship. That was not on my list before.
TF: That’s actually a really good way of looking at it. I haven’t thought about it that way.
AW: But you’re right.
TF: You articulated it back to me in a different way. Wow. So all companies need to be technology companies … Pretty much every company I know is saying we’re trying to maximize people and cultures as a competitive advantage. But the people that are winning in this are really the ones that can execute effectively on it.
AW: Right. What do you think about Zoom calls or Skype calls or FaceTime?
TF: I think it’s a great proxy for face to face. Obviously, you need to have good technology and bandwidth for it can be effective. It’s not 100%. But it’s definitely better because you do see some of the body language you do see some of the interaction if it’s more of a group thing, but you still don’t get it all because once the video is turned off, you have no idea what’s going on afterwards.
AW: That’s right. There’s the explicit conversation that’s going on. And then there’s the subtext, right? Unless you’re face to face talking to someone, there’s often a subtext and even in board meetings, we think about people texting each other under the table, right? they’ve literally got their phone under the table and they’re texting other people.
TF: Oh, for sure! One of the things that I learned and really resonate with me is it’s really maximize that subject line. I’m one of these people that gets bombarded with emails, I’m just scanning. If the subject line attracts my attention, then I open the email, otherwise it remains closed forever.
AW: I actually mentioned that in the podcast episode about conquering your email inbox, you can use it to highlight important details, I guess, especially again, back to your point about email. It’s the hands, it’s the tasks and the next steps and what better way to highlight that.
TF: Exactly. So you want – in terms of action – the required by date, you want to highlight whatever the key critical items are in the email. The other thing that I learned is, how do you know what you’re communicating is being received as intended?
AW: Great question.
TF: That’s why we have a lot of these challenges, because there’s so much room for misinterpretation when it’s just words on paper, in email, what have you, and not the full body language and nonverbal cues. Email is really more about one way. Yes, you could argue it’s two way but how do you know they’ve even opened your email?
TF: How do you know they read it? How do you know they’ve actually read it?
AW: So I think that’s one of the reasons that emojis have become so popular so quickly, is people are saying I want to make sure the person knows – I’m being sarcastic. So I’m going to put a little winky emoji. Or I want to make sure the person understands that that was a joke. So I’m going to put the laughter emoji.
TF: That’s a very valid point. They try to put a bit of the emotion accentuating their key message,
AW: But it’s almost a cliche, right? that you’re not sure if the person was serious or not. And it’s email and Oh, boy, you’re missing so much context of the communication
TF: Right, exactly.
AW: So I have another question for you related to email. What do you think about Reply All?
TF: I’m not a big fan. And it really depends on what it is. If it’s something that’s a value to everyone on the distribution list, then it makes sense. The majority of the time I don’t believe that actually add any value. It it just clutters people’s email box even more. And it makes you look bad because you’re not valuing and respecting their time or their inbox, so to speak.
AW: So I agree 100%. I think people need to really think hard about each individual. And if you’re like, well, I can’t think about each individual will then take them off the list.
TF: Exactly. So again, that comes to ACE – the Audience.
TF: So who is your Audience? And then you go into the Content. So why are you communicating what value is it to them. So that’s why I really like these two frameworks, because you can pretty much bring it all back to that.
AW: That’s fantastic. So we can fold in all the other criteria that we talked about. Some communication medium may be more expensive. So I’m thinking at the extreme is you have to fly to another continent or whatever – another city – to meet with someone face to face. That’s kind of the extreme cost, right?
TF: That’s pretty much the only one that really has a cost associated with it. I would argue the other costs are the cost of doing business. If you don’t have access to some type of video conference in today’s day and age, then I don’t know how you’re still in business, to be honest. It’s the travel costs for the face to face. And that’s where hopefully, there’s been some budget for the initial relationship building and then the maintaining can be done in the video conferencing or other methods.
AW: The other side of cost that’s not monetary, though is the convenience factor, the time factor. And there’s kind of two ways of thinking about that as well. There’s how much time is it costing me to produce this communication, this one way communication that I’ve initiated? And then for the receiver, it’s do they have to respond immediately? Or is for example, picking up the phone, right? Or can they do it on their own time? And this is what I hear from a lot of younger people. I’d rather text or email because then I get it off my plate and it’s up to the person when it’s convenient for them to respond.
AW: head nods! I mean, so but I’m basing this comment about older people preferring phone based on the five rapid fire questions. And I always ask what’s your communication medium of choice for casual conversations. And there is a very, very high correlation between age and media choice, where older people are very consistently saying face to face in the phone, and younger people are saying text and email.
TF: And again, I think it all comes down to the environment we all grew up in. And it depends how much of a learner you are. I’m a lifelong learner. I love learning about new tools and new things. And if there’s a better faster way of doing it, absolutely. But this also reminds me more about how millennials approach work in general. And an example is when work has been assigned to me as a Gen X. I think, okay, these are all my tools such as Microsoft Office, what have you. How can I make the tools work for me to get my job done? What I’ve been fascinated and absolutely love is what I’ve seen Millennials do. They’ll first Google anything, and reach…
AW: …including the how to how to do what I’ve been just told to do?
TF: exactly. And reach out to their network. And they can get a far more comprehensive solution way faster. That’s not even the future. This is the now. So quite frankly, I think some of the dinosaurs need to start adapting but also the Millennials need to also adapt. I think there’s a happy medium and it’s knowing when to use what.
AW: so I just recently whenever an appliance breaks – so my first was my dishwasher was leaking, and then my refrigerator started leaking. Guess what? I fixed both by going to YouTube. The poor service guys. Although some of the more pioneering ones are actually producing the YouTube videos and they are getting 10s of thousands of hits.
TF: Well, and I think this all comes to technological advances in general, all the basic stuff. Absolutely. How fantastic is that? Because leave the repair people to do the complex stuff. I’m sure that’s what they want anyway, they don’t want to be doing the basic stuff. So you can apply that to pretty much any work. So as long as it’s continuously learning and growing, and we all need to do that you’re either going forward or going backwards, there’s no standing still.
AW: I will quote you on that. I like that. Is there anything else you want to add? I think one of the most important things that I learned from this conversation is the audience content and environment acronym. So the ACE acronym and then within that, particularly the under the C – Content, the head, heart and hands framework. Is there anything else you want to add for listeners just to think about when they’re choosing which medium to use for communication?
TF: I think a good reminder is just remember, we’re all human. We’re not robots. It’s a good reminder to just to pause and think about why they’re doing what they’re doing, sending the right communication to the right people at the right time, for
AW: Okay, so now we’re going to move on to the five rapid fire questions. So first question, what are your pet peeves?
TF: I think my biggest pet peeve is closed mindedness. I’m a lifelong learner. I love to learn. I think it’s really important that everyone does,
AW: I can imagine someone coming into your office who’s struggling, and you may be diagnosing the fact that they are not a lifelong learner and they don’t have an open mind.
TF: I think the reason why people aren’t is because of fear. And so then it comes back to the scarf model, right? You’re either moving forward or backwards, there’s no standing still. So people may think they’re standing still, when actually they’re being left behind.
AW: Brilliant that is absolutely eloquent. And I am definitely going to quote you end up in a big red box on social media. Next question, what type of learner are you?
TF: I’m a fast learner for sure. And I learned by doing so doing and seeing
AW: Okay, Question number three introvert or extrovert?
TF: I was gonna say you guess, but I definitely get my energy from people so I guess that makes me an extrovert.
AW: I can definitely tell that you are an extrovert. You probably love being interviewed but also doing interviewing.
TF: for sure. I love both sides.
AW: I can see that. Okay, question number four: communication preference for personal conversations.
TF: So my bias 0 I put it out there – my personal preference because I’m a relationship person. I love people and really connecting emotionally one on one so I’m all about the face to face.
AW: Okay, last Rapid Fire question. Is there a podcast or a blog or an email newsletter that you find yourself recommending the most?
TF: The first one that jumps to mind is FastCompany. Are you familiar with FastCompany?
AW: i subscribe.
TF: I absolutely love it. I was very excited when Fast Company went online. I’m a techie at heart. I actually started as a computer programmer in banking banking at one of our big five banks…. So I love all their focus on new technology on innovation and that really fuels my creativity.
AW: I’m with you and I will gladly share a link for the listeners to that. Is there anything else?
TF: I’ve got a few others. Another one that actually is a friend of mines daughter. Her name is Allegra Shaw and she’s a lifestyle and fashion blogger, Instagram or and YouTuber, and she’s been doing it since she was in high school. And because she’s a Millennial, I’m fascinated how they choose to communicate and interact with each other and the broader population.
AW: So I’ll get the link from you for her as well for sure for her Instagram account and YouTube channel. Is there anything else you want to add to share with listeners about choosing the optimal communication medium for their communication?
TF: I think it’s just again, another reminder: We’re human and humans have a need to connect emotionally. So just pause before you just start hitting send or firing things off. And just again, I think the frameworks are helpful, especially the, the head, heart and hand to figure out what it is you’re trying to do and why.
AW: Brilliant, thank you very much for your time and for your insights to me.
TF: You’re welcome. My pleasure. Thank you for having me. That was fantastic.
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