Email, messaging, and various other forms of social media seem to have skewed much of our first choice communication away from speech and in to text and pictures.
These communication styles obviously serve a purpose. They can be quick, they leave an evidentiary trail, most of the people we deal with see them as normal, and at times, they enable us to constructively avoid discussion when that suits our purposes.
And it goes without saying that in the legal profession the written word has a special value for all kinds of reasons.
Having said all of that, I do worry a little about how this seemingly habitual and compulsive adoption of text and email actually thwarts effective communication.
In its most absurd form, two colleagues in the same office can engage in a dozen back and forth email exchanges (some of a page or more) where a ten minute conversation may have negated much of the need for all the written detail. Face to face is even better. This kind of thing can be extraordinarily ineffective – especially with the escalating competitive pressure against time charging.
Talking is also infinitely superior in any communication where the issues are contentious, where you want people to actually do something, or where any bad news is involved. Consider some simple examples.
If you are chasing slow payers, there is no substitute for getting on the phone. Sure – all the documentation may end up supporting your claim at law, but emails, and accounts rendered are too easily ignored. On the phone you can confirm the debt, confirm when and how it will be paid, discuss and resolve any contentious issues, and basically steer the debtor into action.
When supervising another person’s work, written criticism is time consuming, and doesn’t accommodate the subtleties of coaching, style and constructive exchange.
Without speech, conveying bad news to clients can quickly degenerate into warfare, when a conversation may have landed upon some shared understanding and compromise.
And then there is the basic matter of taking instructions – and through listening and questioning, carefully deconstructing what it is that our clients really need…
Email and text-based communications are here to stay. But next time, before instinctively hitting the keyboard, ask yourself – would this be easier, clearer, faster, more personal and less contentious if I just picked up the phone?
Published: Queensland Law Society – Proctor, February 2016