You will probably agree with me that communication is important. I believe it is not only important; it is likely to be THE most important thing in life, and certainly in our business. After safety and well being of course, but even these depend often on proper communication.
Are we getting BETTER in communicating? For sure, we have far more communication TOOLS. Compared to the start of my career, we have following additional tools:
We have lost some also: Telex (surprisingly few people even know what this was) and it seems to me that snail mail and fixed phones are on the way out.
Plenty of tools, but it would seem to me that the QUALITY of our communications is not exactly improving. E-mails tend to be sloppily written, and few people seem to bother with a spell checker. With e-mail, the “CC” disease has firmly established itself. I get copies of e-mails from all and sundry, often for “political” reasons, and this despite courses we have organised in our organisation. It is the same in other companies: when I worked for IATA, I got well over 200 e-mails on any day, most of them CC’s of routine (and irrelevant) messages, but some including critical information or instructions.
You see, CC-ing someone SEEMS to be the same as informing the recipient which it is not. Clicking CC is quick and easy, and people probably think “better safe than sorry”. However it forces the recipient of reading through the entire thread of mails, plus of course all the copies of all respondents who have clicked “reply all”. In Alvey alone, I estimate that we spend over Euro 100,000 in salaries every year for people reading irrelevant CC’s. How much would the figure be world-wide?
Another challenge is using the appropriate form of communication: synchronous versus a-synchronous. Synchronous forms are those where the recipient is in direct reach and can react, a face to face meeting being the prime example. A-synchronous forms are those where the recipient is not in direct communication, such as an e-mail, or a letter in a bottle thrown in the sea.
I often explain to our team that in general, good news can be delivered a-synchronously, whereas bad news must be given synchronously, preferably face to face. Of course, it is more comfortable for the messenger to do the exact opposite.
Recently, I had my PSA level checked, which is something you must do yearly when you are a male over fifty, which I most definitely am. The result was OK, and I really would not have had the slightest problem if the specialist would have send me following SMS: “PSA OK. See you next year for regular check-up”. This would have been completely fine with me. But how would I have felt, if on a Friday evening I would have received following SMS from the guy: “PSA very bad. Please make appointment urgently.”
We all instinctively know these things from our private lives. We need to apply these in business also, but we sometimes forget.
Do not think I am against the myriad new communication tools at our disposal. I believe they are fantastic. SMS for instance can be great. Vanden Borre, www.vandenborre.be the best TV/Hifi/Electro/White goods retailer in the world, send an SMS the evening before the service technician comes with the appropriate time AND the phone number you can call in case you have forgotten and cannot have the door opened. This is a prime example of a company who uses new (well, not so new in the case of SMS) tools to significantly improve their services.
I believe we as a community need to “catch up” with all these new tools and learn how to use them properly. I am an optimist. Despite all the issues we face, I think the world is getting better every day.
Maarten van Leeuwen
Group Managing Director
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