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PHIL HARDWICK — Business Communication 101: The latest thing

PHIL HARDWICK

PHIL HARDWICK

The message that is sent is never the message that is received.

Two things about the history of communication are clear: The methods of communicating have evolved and the rate of change has accelerated. The methods have run the gamut from grunts and hand signals to email and texting. In modern times the rate of change is so great that Myspace is already a memory, the fax machine is gathering dust and emojis might represent one’s feelings better than words.

And just when one thinks they are up to speed, another new way to communicate comes along. While writing this column I received an email inviting me, an Amazon Prime member, to get my Amazon Dash Button today. A what? I had to watch the video to learn how to use this yet another form of communication.

The “button” is a device that is about the size of a thumb drive with a button-looking circle on it that one places near a product that is reordered often. Laundry detergent, coffee, pet food, even potato chips. When running low on the product the user/customer merely pushes the button to reorder the item. The button communicates with the customer’s smartphone, which immediately communicates with Amazon to order the product. Amazon’s computer then sends an email to the smartphone confirming the order. How’s that for another form of communication? By the way, there are over 200 dash buttons for your favorite products so far. And to think that the little gizmos cost only $4.99 each for Amazon Prime members.

Technology and the Internet thus continue to modify and create our methods of communication. With over half of the inhabitants of the planet now having access to the Internet, who knows what’s next? According to Internet World Stats News, the Internet has just reached another record figure in the world. That organization’s database shows there are 3,675,824.813 Internet users in the world. The Internet penetration rate, equivalent to the percentage of the world population that has access to the Internet, is now 50.1 percent.

Although technology is changing ways to communicate, it should be remembered that all communication is situational. The Vatican still uses smoke to communicate a certain message, intelligence agencies still use coded messages and parents still use discipline to send a message.

So what’s a business to do when it comes to communication? Especially communication in the legal world and in situations where there needs to be no misunderstanding about the message that is sent and the message that is received.

Recently, my class was honored to have two of Mississippi leading attorneys, Jim Warren with the Carroll Warren & Parker law firm,  and Tommy Shepherd, with the Jones Walker law firm. Each attorney has years of experience and has dealt with many types of clients, adversaries and situations. They presented their perspectives on the best to least desirable communications methods, which are presented below in order.

The best form of communication is the face-to-face meeting. It reveals nonverbal communication, which is sometimes louder than what the other person is saying. It involves instant resolution in case there is miscommunication. Nonverbal communication, for example, may be a shrug, a folding of the arms or a look away from the other person.

Next is the telephone call. It reveals tone of voice and inflections. Like the face to face meeting it is also a quick way to clarify the message and instantly resolve any miscommunication.

The letter is next on the list of desirable forms of communication. Both attorneys stressed the significance of the lost art of the handwritten note, which can be a powerful form of communication.

The fax is still around in many business environments and is appropriate in many situations.

Email is ubiquitous and used now my most people. One point made about email was that every email should be answered promptly, even it is to acknowledge receipt of the email. Email threads show the back and forth electronic conversation and provide a record of what was conveyed. Another point well-taken, was that if the email is “bad” or makes the receiver angry, the receiver should wait until he calms down before sending an email they might later regret.

Texting is last on the list, but it may sometimes be the most important. For example, if it’s 9 a.m. and someone is sending a customer a reminder about a business lunch meeting it may be better to send a text instead of an email because they may not read the email until it’s too late.

Finally, both attorneys stressed that it is important to ask the other person which form of communication they prefer because these are general recommendations for most cases.

» Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and owner of Hardwick & Associates, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on the web at www.philhardwick.com. 

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