My kids received a gift of walkie-talkies recently. They were so excited to think that they could be in different rooms and still be able to communicate with each other. What they didn’t anticipate were the problems they would have. Communication through a medium, be it walkie-talkies, email, or social media, adds a complication and unless we realize it, we can create chaos. In my posts, I usually focus on helping you choose what and how to say what you need. Today we are going to focus on the impact your delivery method choice has on your communication.
“The medium is the message.”
I remember my communication professor in college used to say that. She was quoting Marshal McLuhan’s “Understanding Media: The Extension Man”. In his 1964 publication, McLuhan proposes that a medium itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study. He said that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself.
In other words, the way you choose to convey your message not only alters your message, but is a message all on it’s own.
Let’s look at an example:
A girl sends her boyfriend a text that reads, “I am breaking up with you.”
This text has two messages. The first message is explicit and obvious. “I am breaking up with you.” The second message is implicit and can be concluded. “I am not comfortable enough to say this to your face.”
The medium–the text message–added the implicit message by its very use.
3 things to keep in mind when choosing a medium of delivery.
1. Not everyone is as skilled at using the medium.
Going back to my kids walkie-talkie for a second. Walkie-talkie 101 is you press a button to talk. You release that button to listen. This simple instruction baffled my sons who, never having had the tool before, would press the button to talk and listen. My oldest learned the mechanics of the toy quickly. He was having fun. My youngest couldn’t get it. He was frustrated. He had the ability to learn, but the change frustrated him before he got the hang of it.
How many of us are like my oldest? Someone who picks things up quickly. How many of us are like my youngest? It takes a while for you to pick some things up. If the person on the sending and receiving end doesn’t know how to operate the medium being used, there will be communication problems.
We cringe at those who “reply all” in an email when the message was meant for only one person. We get frustrated when Grandma can’t position the webcam the right way to Skype. Each medium has nuances each has to learn and learning takes time, so be patient.
2. Consider the values the sender or receiver assigns to the medium.
When I was an avid fitness instructor, I set up a Facebook account for my students to connect with me about class, events, etc. I did this because a lot of my students were sending me a “Friend Request” and I decided I wanted to keep my personal Facebook page for close family and friends. I un-friended one student from my personal account and sent her a “Friend Request” under my Fitness account. Come to find out months later, that student took offense to being un-friended and stopped coming to class. Eventually we sorted things out but the implicit message of an action through a medium, in this case un-friending on Facebook, grated against the value she places on my action.
We don’t know the values or assumptions others make in their choices, so extend some patience and grace.
3. Consider how people respond to change.
Change is inevitable. Technology will continue to advance. We will find new and interesting ways to communicate. Change however, will illicit different responses from different people. The response to change is like a coin. On one side, some people love trying new things. On the flip side, others hate change because it isn’t comfortable. When communicating with others, you need to not only know which side of the change coin you favor, but also understand the opposite side. This understanding will help you to not become offended.
Like my kids, we get really excited about the possibilities that new communication media offers us. But, unless we allow for skill use, value assignment, and the responses of change, we are setting ourselves up for chaos, offense, and frustration. Before you send that message, ask yourself this one thing,
“Will sending this message in this way help or hinder my communication with my receiver?”