Nonprofit Summer Exercise 12: Communicate & How


Today’s exercise is brought to us by my partner in business, life, love and crime — my husband, Phil Greer. Phil is an IT consultant who works with businesses to solve their biggest collaboration challenges. And while he’s an expert in helping people plan collaborative systems that work, this knowledge is rooted in careful consideration of the people who make them work. 

The way I see it, communication is truly at the root of this whole working in an office thing. Sorry if that sounds overly simple, but bear with me. I’m certain that all kinds of great handbooks, manuals, and philosophical treatises exist about communication and my aim is not to get too academic here.

Since we work with others, we need to communicate well. Office workers must have effective and efficient lines of communication with our cohort in order to get anything done. Needs is the keyword here (don’t be concerned, I don’t intend to go all Maslow on you or anything).

When are my communication “needs” appropriate?

When it comes to choosing your form or mode of communication in the office, there are many options. Email, instant messaging, phone, office social network, impromptu meetings, and scheduled meetings.

Is the choice ours to make? Sometimes. That is, if we are initiating a conversation, we can decide whether to send the first salvo as an IM or an email. The same goes for other people. The initiator chooses the mode of communication.

What troubles me is the part that comes next. If I send an email with detailed questions or instructions, I would like to get an email in return (if a response is necessary). Can we please keep our communications in one given medium? That is, if it starts in IM, let’s carry on in IM. If it’s an email, don’t turn it into a meeting unnecessarily. I truly believe that this applies to others too, not just myself. I work hard to respect the communication needs of others and I expect the same treatment in return.

Office workers don’t work that way though. We are constantly bombarded with messages and requests (or demands) and we respond whenever (and where ever) we can. I have had co-workers respond to me in the washroom even (um, I don’t like that).

Keep the communication in the place that it started.

But wait, you’re maybe thinking that this is not always possible. Of course, you’re quite right! If we start chatting about a donor segment in IM, who’s to say that this conversation will not (or should not) morph into meetings and emails and all manner of documents etc.? Perhaps IM was not the ideal forum for this conversation in the first place. It happens. Remember: common sense.

What is an appropriate use of communication channels?

  • Email – written instructions, detailed questions, quick messages
  • IM – extremely brief notes (these are text messages essentially)
  • Phone – this is for back and forth conversation (sometimes it’s more efficient to just pick up the phone rather than having a long email thread)
  • Office social network – quick and dirty messaging happens here (similar to IM, but perhaps more contextual)
  • Impromptu meetings – emergencies, pressing questions, time-sensitive matters
  • Scheduled meetings – similar to the phone call, this is where we need to sit down and hash out some complex issue via discussion and debate

Keep in mind that I’m not preaching the gospel here. I don’t profess to be an office know-it-all. This is just how I see it. Please share your perspective in the comments section below. Just don’t send me an email about it! (kidding)

Seriously though, we need to tighten up our communications. If a co-worker starts a conversation via channel A, we need to keep it in channel A until the conversation itself requires us to change the channel. And, please don’t talk to me in the bathroom, that’s just plain lazy.