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Posted by Philip on 24 April 2013, 2:20 pm in , , , , , , , , , ,

21st Century communication clues

I've said it before, I'm sure, how ironic it is that, in an age of so many means of contacting people, how difficult it is to efficiently communicate. Not only is it difficult to know which medium is best to use to initiate contact in different situations, it's also incredibly difficult to know if the person has received the communication.

Today I had two situations where I was waiting for replies to communication. In one situation I'd left a voicemail yesterday morning and had sent an email last night. A call this morning revealed the person had been unwell yesterday. 

In the other situation, an unanswered email I sent on Monday, and had to follow up this morning, turned out to be the result of somebody else not responding to my original email, which had been forwarded on.

In contrast, I got this really good and clear example of communication from a friend I'm currently working with:

I passed your details and all our plans over to [the people] who run the books department.

They said they would be in touch with you today to set this all up. Can you please let me know if that doesn't happen? :)

So, I thought I might attempt a list of 21st Century communication clues; ways to ensure that your message gets across and that you don't leave others wondering...


  • Like my friend above, be specific about what you've done or are going to do. Give timeframes and say what to do if something doesn't go as planned.
  • Use auto-reply or auto-forward if you're going to be away from email for more than a day. If you're sick, text or call someone who can log in and do it for you.
  • A good way to follow up on an unanswered email, which a colleague told me about, is to say that your email has been playing up so you're checking to see if it got through.
  • Order the information in emails, especially long ones, wth actionable items at the top. If an email has information about several items, put the items in bold or red. If you're asking for answers to multiple questions, number them so your replier can just number the answers.
  • If you want confirmation of receipt, ask and name a timeframe in which you'll follow up.
  • Avoid sending lots of "thanks" emails, unless you're asked for confirmation of receipt.
  • Put other ways people can contact you at the end of every email.
  • If an email response is complex, complicated or emotive, consider calling or meeting to discuss


  • Keep text messages as short as possible. If a text is more than three sentences, consider email.
  • Remember that most mobile networks often have delays in text message delivery. Also people don't hear their phone, silence it or turn it off. If a text message is time sensitive, call.


  • If it's likely you won't check voicemail regularly, leave a timeframe on your outgoing message. Leave at least one other way of getting hold of you.
  • Make incoming messages short, leave an expected reply timeframe and one or two ways to contact you.

Facebook direct messaging

  • A lot of people don't check Facebook regularly. It's a good way to initiate contact with someone unfamiliar but, unless you know the person well, switch to email for ongoing communication.


  • Unless you know someone uses it regularly, don't bother.

Twitter DM (direct messaging)

  • A good, quick way for short-form communication, use it minimally unless you're familiar with each other.


  • Don't use Skype messaging like email. A bit like texts, unless it's short, use email.
  • Don't video call someone unannounced unless you use Skype to communicate regularly. Message and ask if it's ok.

Mobile calls

  • I can't remember the last mobile call that didn't cut out. Make them short and check the person is free to talk.

The good ol' landline

  • I find people less and less likely to answer an unknown number or unarranged call. So pre-arrange it.
  • Begin the call by asking if it's ok for the person you've called to talk.
  • Answer with your name.
  • If you call a wrong number, say so and apologise. Don't just hang up.
  • If you are a phone marketer, get a new job or expect me to hang up on you.


  • A bit like phone calls, pre-arrange visits unless you know people's schedules well.
  • Likewise, if you're selling products, services, charity or religion door-to-door, stop it please.

Anything else?