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Texting, Talking and Email: What's the Proper Platform for the Conversation?

Photo by Tero Vesalain via Shutterstock

Communicating with colleagues used to be simple. If you had a question or comment, you'd either arrange an in-person meeting, give them a call, or send an email. But these days, with the prevalence of texting, direct messaging and a myriad of social media apps, figuring out how to say something can be more complicated than determining what to say. Unfortunately, this complexity results in confusion, misunderstandings and, sometimes, irreparable harm.

Choosing the right platform for your message matters. There are some thoughts and feelings that are best shared in real life, in person, while others are more effectively delivered via a mediated source. Before sending that DM or text, ask yourself a few questions:

• Who are you sending the message to? What's their preferred method of communication?

• What's the purpose of the communications transaction? What are you trying to achieve?

• How sensitive is the message? What are the ramifications if it’s shared with others?

• What's the urgency of the message? How quickly do you need a response?

• What's the complexity of the information being shared?

• Who should be included in the message? Is it a one-on-one or a group communication?

As you give this some thought, also keep in mind that mediums such as email, texts, DMs and social media apps, can be forwarded, re-posted, and — at a minimum — screenshotted. If you aren’t comfortable with your message being shared with others, avoid those platforms.

Face-to-face meetings are best for discussing confidential information. If that’s not possible, then schedule a phone call or Zoom meeting — with the understanding that it’s not being recorded.

Email is optimal for delivering complicated information, such as background information before a meeting. If you need a response, advise recipients of the deadline in the message or even in the subject line of the note so that they know it's time-sensitive, not open-ended.

Texts and DMs are appropriate in situations where you need a quick response, have an easy question, or are having a casual conversation. As many of us have learned the hard way, sometimes texts and DMs can be misinterpreted. This may result in a misunderstanding — or worse. If this happens, it's best to clarify it immediately, either over the phone or face-to-face. Avoid arguing virtually — it usually exacerbates the situation. And please, never send a text ALL IN CAPS. Nothing good will come from it. (It’s viewed as shouting, which is rude.)

Emojis — digital images or icons — are prevalent in electronic communications for expressing ideas and emotions. If you’re like me, you understand what common emojis mean — 😊 ☹ — but struggle to comprehend the more complicated ones — 🙅‍♀️ 🐍 🐙 ("no," "suspicious," "virtual hug"). Personally, I enjoy an emoji or two in a note. They add a certain degree of fun to an electronic message. And, if you’re like me, you probably have friends or business acquaintances who are emoji addicts, incorporating more smiley faces, frowns, and hearts into a note than you thought humanly possible. My advice: Tell them to stop. Too many emojis are ineffective — they can undercut the sender’s sincerity.

So use emojis sparingly in business, and if you do, consider what impression they’ll convey about you. They might cause the reader to question your intentions and interest (or lack of interest) in the conversation. There may be situations where it’s better, and truly more appropriate, to use words instead. Periodically, I’ll receive a note with just an emoji. This isn’t something I’d advise doing as part of your daily routine. It’s OK if you know the recipient well or are communicating a quick thought, but in no way should this be a substitute for a response — especially in the business world. Emojis should not *be* the message.

Today's communication landscape is vast and varied. Before sending a message, consider the platform, the recipient's preferences, and the nature of the content. Consider the message's impact and your comfort in its potential circulation. Once you send a text or DM, you lose control of the message. Everyone’s smartphone, a wondrous technological device, has a phone built into it. Sometimes, a simple phone call can make all the difference.

Kathryn Lancioni is a communication expert and the founder of Presenting Perfection.

Reflect AI by Alphy is a SaaS platform that flags harmful language, including topic, tone, “isms,” confidence, mindset and appropriateness. Our AI language classifier detects risks in emails prior to send, flags conversational missteps (and successes) in video meetings in real-time, and upskills individual communication with targeted and personalized microlearning.

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