Communication Potholes

PotholeThe rate at which communication is exchanged has two edges.

It’s not that we’re speaking or typing faster, but microscopic delays between exchanges give little time for reflection.

Would responses be more successful if we took slightly longer before responding?


Email is a potential pothole because emotion is always part of communication, and research shows we misunderstand the emotional tone of emails.

As recipients, we only get the intended tone of the message right 56% of the time, and yet we think we understood the sender’s tone 90% of the time. Add to the confusion, 78% us thought our recipients would get the tone of our message correctly.

So if we have a hard time understanding email’s tone, why would we want to respond immediately to angry email?

Of course there are true flame emails. They’re soul depleting traps from the chronically upset. If we take the bait and respond in kind – they’ve won. But if we respond with flame to the “understandably upset” by mistaking them as those who “will never be pleased” – we’ve lost.

A little more time before responding can help us make that distinction. And work on the email’s tone.


Responding quickly to insulting voicemails from customers can have us make the best speech we’ll ever regret.

But if we’re competing for the customer service gold medal, we’ll return that call instantly, even if it has the potential for a firefight.

Of course if they catch you live on the phone or in-person, better practice those stress reduction techniques.

Chat, IM, Blogs

Online chat, IM and blogs can feel like real time conversation, but they’re not. Just ask John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. His unethical posts to Yahoo Finance have been digitally etched for posterity.

On the other hand, lurking online for self-protection marginalizes us. It doesn’t give us a voice, or an exchange of specific and useful information.

The Upside

Immediate communication and Web 2.0 bring a ton of upside to business and life in general.

* Social networking and online sharing tell us we are not alone.

* Blogs enable 2-way communication. Chris Garrett on New Media, explains the difference between:

…“article” and “blog post” it would be that a blog post is intended to be part of a conversation whereas an article is written not expecting an “answer”.

* Speed of communication in chat rooms, IM, and blogs is intoxicating – you read it, you write it, it’s there.

* Internet connectivity enables living locally and working globally.

Online self-expression has a short turnaround and a long memory. But that doesn’t mean becoming paranoid. We just have to recognize the potholes in the road and slow down enough to steer clear of them.

Chris Arlen
President, Service Performance

Technorati: communication, email, blogs

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