Part 4 of a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

At large, we tend to be very passive, non-confrontational, and people-pleasing communicators. Even the most aggressive among us, deep down, want to be loved and so we tend to shy away when problems come up. This disposition causes us to use bad channels of communication. Every day, each hour, we have choices to make about which channel to communicate through and the hardest choices happen when conflict rears its ugly head.

I think it’s funny that now that everyone has a cell phone, we actually call someone to discuss a problem and we hope to get the voicemail. When someone answers, we say, “Oh! I didn’t expect to get you. I was just getting ready to leave a voicemail.”  There are times when two people experience conflict and both go to extreme measures to avoid the other person, whether at home, work, or even out in public.

The bottom line is this: we choose a particular channel of communication based on what makes us comfortable or uncomfortable. Talking face-to-face with your boss about a problem is uncomfortable, so you write a note or send an email. Calling an offended friend is hard, so you send a pithy text message to try and smooth things over.  Looking your hurt spouse in the eyes is tortuous, so you avoid her altogether.

I’ve learned what channels to use the hard way. I’ve had more than my share of email conflicts, and I’ve avoided people and had huge consequences.  With all this in mind, here are some general guidelines for determining proper channels of communication:

  • Face-to-face should always be the desired channel of communication. If that is unavailable, then try a phone conversation. If you can’t call them, then send an email. Finally, if email is not possible, then get ready for thunder thumbs and send a text message.
  • Never communicate anything negative in a written channel.  Negative communication in an email or text can be deadly to any relationship. We know these are never good mediums because you cannot hear tone, inflection, or see the face and eyes of the other person.  However, negative communication doesn’t need to be offensive communication if delivered with kindness, gentleness, and loving truth while seeing and hearing the other person.  If you cannot get a hold of them, then send a message letting them know you’d like to meet in person.
  • Therefore, email should only be used for positive or neutral communication. This also applies for memos in an organizational context.
  • When having a face-to-face conversation, remember that people communicate differently. Some people speak faster than they think, while others need some time to internally process. Communicate how you communicate, but be gracious in allowing the other person to communicate how they communicate. If there is an abundance of grace and understanding from both people, conflict will not arise out of conflict.
  • Thanks to my fiancée, whom I’ve learned this from: in a written correspondence, if you have to write “I’m just kidding” or “That was a joke,” then you probably shouldn’t have written it.
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