Are you overloaded with communications all day, every day? I know that I am! It seems like many of us spend an inordinate amount of time reading emails and texts, and watching and listening to news clips, videos and sound bites, yet very few messages are received with the sender’s true intent. It’s startling to see how many duplicate messages from advertisers land in my inbox and how many unnecessary texts I receive. The sheer volume everyone receives may explain why we may need to send the same request three, four or five times to get a response from someone. If you have had difficulty getting responses, the following tips can help you improve your overall effectiveness with electronic communications.
Know your audience. It’s important to consider what you are sharing and the timing before you hit “send.” Mass communicating sensitive information is probably not a good idea without knowing the information’s potential impact. Businesses employ public relations people to do this, but the concept remains true for individuals, associations, community groups and just about anybody. If you don’t have access to a PR person or firm, then run information by trusted colleagues or a mentor prior to sharing it to avoid producing potentially negative results.
Say less to produce more.
Stay in touch. Long-winded email “updates” can also annoy your audience. It’s just not always possible to read a two-page update. Staying in touch with brief and more frequent updates keeps your network informed and more likely to be able to respond if you need something. Keeping someone in the loop or planning a specific time to discuss issues in advance of a critical event or deadline allows your contact to be able to consider your situation more carefully and offer useful advice.
Say less to produce more. Complex or wordy messages may be missed, deleted or misinterpreted. Keep your messages brief and to the point, and provide only relevant information that the reader needs to be able to respond.
Keep questions brief and to the point. A rambling description of a situation may take too much time for the reader to address. Ending with a time-sensitive question when the reader isn’t expecting it can leave you without a response at all. You might suggest having a phone conversation to discuss a specific topic or, if phone communication is difficult, adjust your email by using bullets or numbers to highlight three important points. Offer to attach or send more information to support your request. Some good rules of thumb are to ask closed-ended questions (e.g., time, date, yes/no) in emails or texts to ensure an easy and quick response and save open-ended questions (e.g., what do you think? thoughts?) for planned, live conversations so your contact can take more time to elaborate than they might via email. Important issues can be missed using texts. Make sure you are using a medium your contact is most likely to read.
Plan ahead and allow enough time for a reasonable response. Waiting until the day before a decision must be made or action is required to ask for help is too late to expect a reasonable response. Trying to catch someone up on three months of history in an email may be too much for someone to get through. Last-minute requests are subject to the “I don’t know the answer, so I’ll ignore the request” nonresponse. If the question requires the recipient to consider it carefully, it may not be possible to do immediately. Try providing a brief heads-up that you are considering new options or are having difficulties to allow the recipient to consider your plight. After they respond, send the rest of the details and allow your contact time to digest them.
Use social media carefully. Social media is accessible by almost anyone, regardless of the safeguards you might take. Think about whom you need to reach and whom you don’t. Blasting photos and rants can get you in trouble with your employer or your customers. Think twice or maybe three times about the reactions you may get, based on how viewers may interpret your remarks or images.
Be prepared to follow up. A key point that is often left out of important communications is the time to act on the responses you get. It doesn’t make sense to reach out to potential customers or employers, then delay your response when they contact you. In a similar fashion, it isn’t good form to ask a question requiring someone’s time and effort, then ignore their response. Make the time to respond, set appointments or, most importantly, thank people for their response.
Effective communication requires good planning and responsiveness. If you are unwilling to invest the effort, why would you expect someone else to?