Tuesday, 26 February 2008

On Escalating Communication

Bad day at the office, darling?

Just read a good article from Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror, On Escalating Communication which discusses the need to communicate not only the right message, but through the right medium. Amen to that.

I had an experience yesterday where I found I was writing an e-mail on a politically sensitive issue which had the potential to blow up in my face (personal situation, I hasten to add - nothing to do with work). Now, there are two approaches people take when writing an e-mail like this. 1) The Grenade: Don't worry too much, toss it over the wall and apologise afterwards. 2) The Gold Brick: Contextualise and rationalise your argument to the point where it is seemingly incontrovertible, but consequently also impenetrable and arrogant, then toss it over the wall and knock the poor recipient out. I'm generally in the latter group.

I went ahead and began to contextualise & rationalise my key message: "I won't pay XXX for YYY, try again." By the time I finished, the e-mail was 7 paragraphs long, explained my full life story, described my rationale for believing that XXX wasn't the right price for YYY, justified it to the 359th degree, turned around and touched its own toes, but didn't really send the right message. Why? It was too inflexible a communication mechanism for the circumstance. There could be any number of reasons why YYY was overpriced, or XXX was too much. Sending the e-mail as it was could potentially have blown the whole situation out of the water, disenfranchising the vendor and leaving me without my YYY.

In the end, I saw sense and 'phoned the vendor and sorted things out. They're still mulling things over, but I'm confident there's a much better chance of getting the right answer than if I'd hit them on the head with a gold brick.

How do you tell when you're trying to use e-mail to do something it shouldn't be used for? I suspect the answer is simple: If you feel you're having to cut corners in your communication, or you feel like you're trying too hard, then you're probably using the wrong medium. Time to upgrade to a phone call or, heaven forbid, a meeting.

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