How to be Most Effective at Getting your Message Across

Posted by martin.parnell |
How to be Most Effective at Getting your Message Across

Earlier this year, I was invited to give a presentation at this month’s TEDx YYC. 

On Friday, I stood on the stage at the Jack Singer Hall, situated in the Arts Commons building in Calgary and gave a talk entitled “Life is a Relay”. Whilst rehearsing for this type of event, I am always aware of the need to integrate passion, humour, anecdotes and facts, into my talk. 

Along with these are other aspects to be conscious of, such as expression, body language and overall presentation. It all comes down to what I want to say, how I’m going to say it and how it will be interpreted, by the audience. 

In the work place, it is becoming increasingly common for a person to send an email, text, tweet or some other form of modern communication, which is OK for certain messages to get through, however, I would argue that, whenever possible it is better to speak to someone directly, either by picking up the phone or seeing them in person. 

In 2011, Anthony Tjan, CEO of venture capital firm Cue Ball, wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review, in which he stated: 

“Like many readers, I have experienced too many unproductive strings of back-and-forth emails or texts that should have stopped in round two, but continue. The problems with trying to resolve sensitive matters over email or text are quite obvious:

1. It is hard to get the EQ (emotional intelligence) right in email. The biggest drawback and danger with email is that the tone and context are easy to misread. In a live conversation, how one says something, with modulations and intonations, is as important as what they are saying. With email it is hard to get the feelings behind the words.

2. Email and text often promote reactive responses, as opposed to progress and action to move forward. Going back to the zero latency expectation in digital communications, it is hard for people to pause and think about what they should say. One of my colleagues suggests not reacting to any incendiary message until you have at least had a night to sleep on it, and always trying to take the higher ground over email. While by definition reactive responses occur in live discourse, they are usually more productive.

3. Email prolongs debate. Because of the two reasons above, I have seen too many debates continue well beyond the point of usefulness. Worse, I have experienced situations which start relatively benignly over email, only to escalate because intentions and interests are easily misunderstood online. When I ask people if they have called or asked to meet the counterpart to try and reach a resolution, there is usually a pause, then a sad answer of “no.”

Email is one of the greatest productivity contributors of the past two decades, and social communication platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have fundamentally changed and positively enriched the means and reach with which we are able to interact. Yet we have to recognize when such digital channels cannot substitute for a live conversation.

Email and social networking modes of communications have created a generation of casually convenient new connections, and even helped us deepen existing relationships, but they can rarely replace the real world. As digital communication accelerates the pace at which people form and broaden relationships, it is also decreasing the rate at which people are willing to resolve issues professionally and directly in-person. The next time you experience an issue over email, ask yourself if it is something that would be better served by a real conversation.”

It is also important to remember that, when someone communicates with us, in person, we are able to read their body language, expression and tone of voice. According to researchers M Mahdi Roghanizad and Vanessa K Bohns, in an article for the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, published this year, a new study has found that people tend to overestimate the power of email and are, in fact less persuasive than they think over email and overestimate its power.

Highlights of the research showed: People underestimate compliance when making requests of strangers in person. In two studies, we found the opposite pattern of results for emailed requests. Requesters overestimated compliance when making requests over email.

This error was driven by a perspective-taking failure. Requesters failed to appreciate how untrustworthy their emails would seem to others. Bohns concludes that  "A face-to-face email is 34 times more successful than an email". 

So, I would suggest that, if possible, next time you want to have a discussion, present an idea or share a point of view with someone, why not pick up the phone or, better still, arrange to speak to them in person.

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