Productivity vs. Digital Etiquette

A recent New York Times article by Nick Bilton discussed an issue I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  How do we hit just the right note interpersonally as most of our communications go digital?

Should we call, leave a voice message, send an email, or a text? Or bother with a face-to-face meeting?  There’s the need to balance etiquette, sincerity, and tact with the need to promote productivity.

Controversial Issues that Nick Bilton Raised:

  • Voicemail messages waste so much of the receiver’s time, and many millennials don’t even listen to them. So you better just send a text.
  • Saying “thank you” when someone answers your email request just clogs up the receiver’s inbox.
  • It’s impolite to ask someone a question if the answer can be found by googling it.

These observations generated hundreds of comments, many criticizing Bilton for his rudeness.  Clearly, all three observations give greater importance to speed than to interpersonal connection.  But there’s more to productivity than speed and brevity.

There’s no doubt that we’re communicating more often, but we’re also conveying less in each message.  How can we decide which mode is best for a given situation?  Here are some suggestions:

Choosing Text vs. Email vs. Voice vs. Phone

Words Only (Texting or Email):

1) Use Texting when

a) Time is of the essence.
b) The information conveyed is simple, factual and very brief.
c) The relationship is already well established.

2) Use Email when

a) You want them to receive the message at their convenience, not yours.
b) You want to give them some time to think before responding.
c) The information to be conveyed is factual and non-sensitive.

Voice (Phone or Face-to-Face):

3) Use Phone when

a) You want the sound of your voice to convey your enthusiasm, or your concern, or your certainty, or the fact that you’re only joking.
b) You’re not sure how to say what you want to say until you hear how they are responding.
c) You need considerable back-and-forth between the two of you before you can make any progress.

4) Go Face-to-Face when

a) Your facial expressions and gestures will help convey important relational messages.
b) Level of trust is important, so you want to see their body language and for them to see yours.
c) You want to be there to give emotional support, if necessary.

There are many other elements that you may want to consider in making your choice.  The main thing is to adapt to your audience and to the goals of your communication.

Productivity is important, of course.  But productivity and speed are not necessarily the same. A misunderstood message can throw a monkey wrench into productivity.  And a brief, curt response may lose a customer, a friend, or a supporter.



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