Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Is our language getting lost ?

16 Apr

Sup man, how u been ? Ima miss ya when you’re gone.

What? You did not get this?? Well this is how communication works today – and that was just an easy one. Here’s the ‘translation’ to the language that you are probably more familiar with if you are 29 and up:

What’s up man, how have you been doing ? I will miss you once you will be gone.

Don’t get me wrong – I am German and maybe I should not criticize the development of English language in the US. But this is – by no means – an issue only the US has to deal with. It has become a growing concern in many other countries as well – including Germany. One reason truly is our ways of communication. For some of us it might be hard to believe but there actually was a time where people wrote letters to each other to communicate. Once the letter was written, it was taken to the receiver by the next post coach. As an example, a delivery from Berlin to Frankfurt (~550km, ~340 miles) took approximately one week. Of course, there has been plenty of technological progress since that time. Today, we differentiate between two types of communication channels:

Direct communication channels such as Instant Messaging, a phonecall or face-to-face conversations provide the instant delivery of messages from a sender to a receiver but require a specific attention from all participants (eg. being in the same room or using the same protocol/client).

Some examples for indirect communication channels are letters, eMails or text messages. They do not provide the opportunity of a ‘real’ conversation but allow participants to consider and think about a received message before answering it. That being said, it seems like indirect channels are much more comfortable for both sides while participants of direct channels always feel that certain pressure pushing them to a quick response.

Currently, the most common channels used in businesses are eMail, the phonecall and face-to-face meetings. However, international operating corporations are more and more facing problems with – both internal and external – communication. The eMail has become more important than ever for today’s businesses and we have already discussed the issue of saying things right in an eMail.

So now we are facing the impacts of our fast-pacing life – the 2010 Plantronics study ‘How we work’ speaks for itself:


Today’s text messages among younger people look like described above and the question is if this simplification and abbreviation of language is a phase or if it might have an impact of actual language development in our society.

However, in a couple of  years – once the arising Generation Y aka Millennials has taken over the business world – they will also demand for new ways of communication. Another related challenge for this generation will be the fight against the informational overflow. A 2008 article of the New York Times “Struggling to evate the eMail Tsunami” and a 2010 article on GigaOm “Is eMail a curse or a boon?” have been the first forerunners announcing an arising issue.


How to say it right ?

14 Apr

Have you ever thought about how to let somebody know that he sucks at his job? Surely, it is an option to say it straight to his face. But imagine that this person is on your team, sitting in an office that is thousands of miles away from yours – not an unusual outcome of globalization. You and this person regularly communicate via eMail and phonecalls – how would you phrase nonproductive work now?

Usually, it begins with appreciation followed by a big fat ‘but’ and some recommendations for further improvement. This is how you learnt to criticize in college. So you have a big text eMail or a long phonecall in which you cushion your criticism. But what if it is not an exceptional case? How often would you try to express your criticism that way until you say: Enough!

The problem is that our usual ways of communication nowadays are limited. Take the phonecall as a first example: Beside the actual speech, the sender usually communicates subtextual content such as body language and personal emotions because he is actually concentrating on the issue the phonecall is about. Now see what happens:

Phonecall Barrier

Phonecall Barrier

All the effort spent by the sender to create message quality is interrupted by the barrier of the phone. The receiver just receives the actual speech. However, a receiver skilled in communication is able to recognize certain subtextual content in the speech sent by the receiver. But the general case is: A lot of important information is lost. This problem is also part of the known studies by German researcher and professor Schulz von Thun who developed the four sides model (aka communication square or four ears model) in the 1970s. He is considered to be the pioneer of communication psychology.

So how to say it right in case you cannot say it right?

Many corporations invest in development of communication skills among their employees. But in my opinion there is clearly a lack of research on this area. Many companies outthere offer training on general eMail writing – but the recommendations are always more or less the same: clear structure, no emotional icons, no typos, appropriate salutation etc.

I could only find a few companies focusing on the actual content and its design. My guess is that it strongly depends on the matter of the eMail. The other day, a colleague told me about his method: He writes up a nice text with all his criticism and deliverables for the receiver cushioned in it. At the end of his eMail, he outlines the core deliverables once again (or the core message of the eMail). This time in a very distinctive way – as a conclusion, he says.

What about an eMail that just says its message straight away? Would it make people feel offended? Could it influence peoples’ motivation? Or would it just be easier (and faster) to process for the receiver? Answers to these questions would require further psychological investigation – my guess here is that it depends on the individuals’ psychology how the actual message comes across.

Ultimately, all the skills about how to say it right are only the first step to successful communication in nowadays business. Another important barrier is the informational overflow that many businesses have to deal with. How are you supposed to read, understand, process and answer a daily average of 30 eMails? But that is a whole new story…