mediums for communication

Earlier this summer my extended family got together for a reunion, during which my second cousin learned that my grandmother knew how to text, which is a medium her grandmother doesn’t use to communicate. And so, over breakfast on the last day, we sat down to teach her. And my Great Aunt Joan sent her first text. 

Now my grandmother doesn’t text me all the time. But she understands that some messages, like telling me she hopes I stay warm or dry when there’s snow or a big rainstorm, are better communicated over text than through a phone call that always ends up being at least a half hour long. 

No one medium is better than another. It all depends on the message you are using it to communicate. 

A medium for communication is just a way in which we communicate, or a tool we use to reach each other. Different mediums serve different purposes because of the variety of ways they connect the sender and receiver to each other. 

The following are some possible mediums for communication: text, email, a phone call, your workplace’s Slack channel or G-chat, a video call, or an in person meeting. You can also communicate with people while at a party or social event, one-on-one or in a bigger group, and you can deliver many messages at a time or leave the others for later. 

In Person Communication 

In general, most people would probably agree that in-person communication is the best. That is because 55% of meaning is communicated through body language, 38% through inflection and tone of voice, and only 7% is communicated through the words we say. When we communicate through written word, we have to understand that body language and inflection doesn’t help the receiver understand your tone. The same thing goes for phone calls: we are still missing 55%! 

But remember, the mediums you should choose all depend on the message you want to communicate and the circumstances around you and the receiver. 

Long Distance Communication

In our increasingly digital age where remote work is becoming more and more common, meeting in person is not always an option for coworkers who live in different states, or sometimes even different countries. In those instances, email is probably their most common medium of communication. Even scheduling video calls can be cumbersome when dealing with multiple people and time zones. 

But they know that there are some tasks, like brainstorming or planning a large project, that simply cannot happen over email. Some companies have sought to remedy this issue by meeting together in-person for a conference once or twice a year. 

Questions to Consider

Here are some questions to think through when deciding on the best medium for your message: 

Will this message require a lot of back and forth? If so, it might best be communicated in a live setting (phone, video call, or in person) where you can discuss in real time without the delay of written communication. 

Does this message contain important details that need to be remembered? If so, email is preferable as it can be referenced later. Or if details come up in a live conversation, they can be emailed out to the relevant parties after the meeting. 

Does this message require a short and quick response or a longer well thought out one? Texts and instant messages are better used for quick yes or no questions, or those that don’t require much thought. While emails are more suited for paragraph long answers. 

You should also think about whether the receiver is ready to listen to your message in a given moment. If your chosen medium is in-person, scheduling a dedicated meeting is different than approaching someone while at a happy hour. You can also consider if this would best be received in a one-on-one context or with a small group. Will the receiver be embarrassed if this message is delivered with others around, or do you need the input and perspective of more people? 

It is important to note that while there is a time and place to use every medium, no medium will work perfectly. That is because we are imperfect people working through imperfect means and we will encounter barriers to communication, which we will cover in the next article. Consider which medium will work the best for the situation, and then move forward in confidence. 

Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.