How many times did you feel frustrated with a simple text message when you wished you had had lengthy news? The times of the long letter, handwritten with care, sent with that special feeling (pleasure or chore, as the case may be) are long gone. Now, we get this sense of accomplishment when we have sent that simple « Happy New Year » to our whole contact list on our cell phone! Have you thought about the recipient? Not even, I guess, because, if he or she is part of a huge group, they are no « one in particular »… But, are these short and impromptu messages so bad in the end?
The current risk is communication overload: number of systems and size of messages. Too many notes, said Salieri to Mozart, when everyone knows the beauty of his music; our first reaction is « who is he to talk about the musical giant Mozart was? » but, he may have had a point, and we can take a step back. Why do we often take three sentences to say one simple thing? Could be that we feel compelled to dwell and make sure we are understood, thus going round and round, giving the other one the sense he needs « knocking things in his head ». There is a time for length, there is strength to simplicity. Too many words, was I told recently, I am trying to learn and be more concise.
The good side is what Mark Granovetter called « The Strength of Weak Ties » in a 1973 book. In the way we have developed our work environment, there is true value to these occasional ties: a simple contact to touch base, an announcement to inform of a fact, a mail to give details to a colleague, and obviously much more for the intimate relationships. The « weak ties » keep our groups together; as communication speed has increased, the number of possible contacts as well, yet reduced to the simplest form. This is called networking, the new civilisation paradigm. Hence, the development of Twitter, flash text messages, but also the other tools, including FaceBook that gives an opportunity to « feel the other ».
There is a compromise and that is in the « true thought » you are going to put in that message, particularly important in company communication. A few key rules:
1. Stay in touch; that means « touching the other », not just zipping by!
2. Think of the content; as a kid, I had to « turn the tongue 7 times in my mouth before talking », and I am sure there is an equivalent saying in every culture around the world!
3. If it is short and sweet, I can use a text message; if not, it is a mail that (I) I re-read before sending and (II) carefully title in the object box, thus helping the recipient.
4. If I « really » need to respond, I give myself time to think through it and apply #3-I above; if I am one of numerous recipients, I have checked if some responses have already happened and the title (#3-II) will help to do so; if I respond, I do not necessarily copy everybody (think of an invitation to a meeting, respond only to the organiser). By the way, do I « really » need to respond or am I not showing off?
5. And I never forget that a short telephone call can be best with a « voicemail » if need be; that means being short and « to the point » on the message. I, for one, still need to learn!
Yes, the current communication craze is great, as it allows us to « stay in touch », with our business and social networks. But try to « really touch the other ». A simple message is great for the recipient, as long as there is the sense that you have really thought of him or her in communicating; the word comes from the latin communare, which means being together, sharing something. And, business or social, around Christmas time, you can send a thousand text messages and help your operator make loads of money, but you can select a few special recipients that will get a thought-through message from you, it shall touch someone!