By Sharine Sample

No matter what your role is in your organization, at some point you will need to communicate with others. With so many communication options to choose from, you may find yourself asking: is it better to speak directly, or communicate in writing?

Most of us choose based on what is more comfortable for us personally. However, choosing whether to speak or write should be based on more than your feelings or needs. We all get in the mindset of choosing what for us is the easiest, most convenient form of communication. Today we’ll look at how to stop and consider which method most effectively conveys your message.

Keep in mind that not all people think and communicate like you do. This is tough, especially if you are delivering a difficult message, reporting an issue, or giving feedback. The person you’re communicating with not share your preferences and tastes, so make sure you choose their style over yours. Communication expert Tony Alessandra, who has advised companies such as Apple, Ford and IBM, devised The Platinum Rule, a variation of the age-old Golden Rule: “Do unto others as they want to be done unto.”

When to speak. Speaking offers the personal touch and is not as rigid as a written method. Your message will include not only your words, but emotion and both verbal and nonverbal cues. At times, it allows questions to be answered much quicker. Speaking also provides a space for conversational engagement and participation. It gives you the opportunity to see where the other person is in a project, gauge how they are feeling, and give immediate feedback.

When speaking with someone, know when to stop talking. Pay attention to others and take their cues so you’ll know when to listen instead of speaking. In the words of Jimi Hendrix, “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” Sometimes conversations will be difficult, but this will help you grow.

A quick tip to remember: if what you will be speaking about is complex and involves multiple steps or questions, it is better to speak to the other person(s) directly. This allows for less confusion and opportunity for misinterpretation. Work smarter, not harder.

When to write.  There are pros and cons to written communication. Writing an email or sending a text produces a permanent record with a timestamp. But, once you hit that send button, you can’t take it back.

Some people choose writing instead of having difficult face-to-face conversations, which is not always the best method. It can be easy to misinterpret your meaning because the other person can’t see you or hear your tone. Writing should contain details and state exactly what you intend. Your audience should be able to discern your emotion.

If you have any doubt about what you are trying to say, do not send your message. Once again, everyone thinks and feels differently, so your reader may take your words in a way that you did not anticipate. You may want to have someone you trust review your message first.

A good rule of thumb: if you are sharing something important that needs to be documented, giving direction, or providing information to others (such as a list, table or chart), use a written message. Make sure it is clear, concise, professional and – most importantly – grammatically correct.  Double check your work, making sure names, dates and instructions are all accurate.

With either spoken or written methods, follow a few simple, good-faith rules:

  • Consider others and not yourself. Follow the advice from Alessandra: “Do unto others as they want to be done unto.”
  • Be kind. Everyone is experiencing things in their workday that you know nothing about. Be considerate of their time, feelings and emotions.
  • Be respectful. Being kind and being respectful are two different things. Use them both. You can be direct while still showing respect.
  • Asking instead of telling. You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. In the workplace, we all need each other to get the job done. Asking a person or group will get you better results than telling them what to do.
  • Leading is a privilege and not a right. No matter where you fall in the organizational chart, you can be an example to others. Maya Angelou says it best: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Whether you are speaking to someone or sending a written communication, take these tips to heart and your conversation is more likely to have the best possible outcome.

Sharine Sample is the Regional Workforce Development Manager at Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina.

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