Communication is probably one of the most overused and misunderstood words in the English language. This is especially true since the advent of modern communications technology and “tools.” All of us have many options for sharing or exchanging information, from the most “primitive” written word in the form of letters, to e-mail, cell phones, voice mail, etc. With all these options, one would think we are getting better at communicating.

My experience in working with people in organizations indicates that the reverse is often true. It seems that the more modern the tools we use, the less effective we are at sharing or exchanging information. In some cases, our lives are even complicated by the use of these tools. For instance, if we use them to avoid face-to-face “confrontation,” we sometimes get reactions from the recipient that are unintended. Although it may often feel better to deliver a “negative” or sensitive message via e-mail or voice-mail, we miss the opportunity to observe the non-verbal reactions of the recipient as we deliver it. Without the ability to adjust the “tone” of our message in response to these “non-verbals,” we risk creating conflict with others where none might otherwise exist.

There is also some good news about these modern communication tools, and they offer many advantages beyond the obvious ones. One of these is our ability to set the “tone” of our messages. This is often easier than some of us prefer or are able to do “on the fly”, and is especially helpful if our preference is to be direct or “blunt,” delivering our messages like a two-by-four between the eyes. If we know the message we are communicating is sensitive, or the recipient prefers and is likely to respond more “positively” to a softer or more indirect approach, we can choose just the right words to deliver the message with the desired impact.

It is almost always preferable to communicate face-to-face unless there is a need to keep a record of the message or logistics prevent us from delivering it effectively. We must always choose our tools and methods wisely, always giving ourselves the opportunity to maximize communications effectiveness.