Communication Tools and Levels of Interruption

Angry Phone Have you ever stopped to consider how various communication tools impact the person receiving the communication? Have you ever thought about the various friction and interruption costs of various products? I’ve been thinking about this more and more as I figure out how to manage my own business, and I realized that this might be really useful to you, too. Let’s walk through this together.

Communication Tools and Levels of Interruption

Email – Email is probably the simplest of communication tools. It is the lowest level of interruption. The person receiving the email can choose to read it whenever he or she has a moment. It can usually be collected from multiple touchpoints and devices, and there are many ways to handle it. It can be any length (though I prefer brevity). Let’s call this Level of Interruption 1.

Tweet – Twitter is a great service for communicating, provided the other person is around and not flooded by other tweets that might push your message off the screen and downstream. It’s wonderful for fast, back-and-forth interactions. It’s not good for if you need something urgently. For instance, if you need a question answered by a co-worker immediately, don’t use Twitter, because it’s too easy to ignore. This is Level of Interruption 2.

SMS/Text Messaging – Texts are a good way to reach someone for fast, important information gathering. They are also disruptive in that they loudly push for an interruption of what’s going on in the other person’s life. They are far more intrusive than an email or a tweet. Used properly, texts are a great tool for managing what’s urgent, especially because the other party can delay the answer a moment until he or she is at a better place to answer. But again, texts are interrupting. This is Level of Interruption 3.

Phone Call – Phones have been around forever, but the way we use them has changed a great deal. How often do we reach someone’s voicemail instead of them? (If you call me, VERY often.) Phones force a one-on-one interaction, and are very disruptive. They also require the most focused of attention. For that reason, phones are Level of Interruption 4.

So What?

I don’t think we consider the method we use to connect with people. I don’t think we weigh whether or not the message would best be served by a text instead of a phone call, a tweet instead of a text, etc. The various methods of connectivity have their pluses and minuses, and it’s up to you to determine:

  1. How important your message is.
  2. How quickly you need a response.
  3. How willing you are to interrupt the other person.

When you know the answers to the above, you might start thinking about how you connect with people differently. There are, of course, many other variables we could add to the mix, too. Why use Facebook or LinkedIn mail when email would suffice? (The answer most people give was because they were “in system” and it’s easier to use the built-in tool.

At most, what you should consider after reading this is: what’s the best tool for the job I’m attempting?

What do YOU think about it? How do you view the various communication tools? Have you been on the receiving end of messages you felt could’ve come to you differently?

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