Bring Your Words to Life

I have a very strong need to communicate with others, more than most. I enjoy hearing people’s voices, seeing faces, learning from others, and getting my point across. Admittedly I can be a pest, though I have acknowledged that many of my colleagues and friends are alike. Over time I have realized that many people have ‘go-to’ mediums of communication. Those who align with the medium(s) I prefer, tend to have more staying power and develop closer bonds with me whether they know it or not. There is a time and place for all, but only a rare view can speak to me. From worst to best I have ranked the platforms of communication that exist and their implications in life and business:

5) Text – Seriously, I hate text messaging. It intends to make communication more efficient, but I cannot think of a more robotic and disruptive medium. I have never received a text message that made me think “damn, thank you for that”. I think three things:

When do I respond? Do I respond in 1-5 minutes or is that too needy? Do I respond in 20-30 minutes or is that rude? The psychological game that is played back and forth with text messaging drives me up the wall.

It is a waste of time. Time is my most valuable resource. Conversations that normally take five minutes end up lasting hours, sometimes stretched out over an entire day. The delay diverts my attention from what I should be doing and that irritates me.

Texting is a waste of money. I am on a pay-as-you-go plan here in Moldova with Orange and I am very economical with mobile usage. I do not like to waste minutes or messages on BS. Hit me up from a landline and save both of us cash! In fact, mobile phones receiving calls from landlines in Moldova are free. Stop wasting credit to tell me you tried colțunași with your baba! I do not care and will demonstrate that by not responding.

4) Email – This is the text message’s big fat ugly brother. Just when I thought the mosquito had left, in comes the more intricate version. There’s nothing that makes me want to yack more (outside of stale house wine) than a 5 paragraph email. I am right-brained, which means I see the bigger picture and am attracted to creativity and emotion. Emailing is geared towards a left-brained thinker. People with strong attention to detail and focus have more success in absorbing the information. I am continually developing myself to think this way but it is a constant fight.

What happens when I see a new email in my inbox? I will first identify the person. Do I know him or her? How much do I care about this person? Is it a priority that I read the message? After initial identification of the source I may or may not enter the email. If I do then on to phase two. I will then look at how long the message is. If it is more than three paragraphs, I will grab my coffee thermos, sit-back, pour a cup, take a deep breath, drink, and then try my hardest to power through. Good luck getting me to concentrate and retain 75% of what was written. This definitely exposes a great weakness. I may miss the important details of a message and, for example, hurt the project our team is working on. This is on me but seriously if you have something to send me concerning a project, break it up into parts and keep your message clear and concise. Bold and italicize stuff, ask questions and provide the answers, put bullet-points in there, write a joke, tell a story, add a picture/diagram, for the love of humanity… HELP ME!!

3) Phone – Now we are talking, literally and figuratively. I enjoy receiving phone calls from people (I know). As mentioned before, it is free for me so call me when you want. 95% of the time I will pick up the call. The other 5% of the time I am either busy and will call you back or legitimately do not want to answer your call. This is because you probably suck or are trying to sell me something I do not intend to buy. The thing I enjoy most about a phone call is the personable touch it provides during conversation. There is normally some small talk involved surrounding the issue, which I enjoy. Many people do not like talking about nothing but I do. I recall a time when my brother and I were speaking on the phone and his wife told me that he was making a gesture  with his hand, opening and closing it to mock that I talk a lot. Yes Mark, I remember this. I feel it necessary to hear someone’s voice. I can gauge interest and sincerity. I also hear their message. It speaks to me directly. The more comfort I gain in the person, the more trust I build, and the more receptive I am to their thoughts and ideas. There is something about a phone call that tells me that I am important. It takes effort and strength to make the call. Both of which are recognized and appreciated.

2) Video Chat – The wave of the future not only for personal relationships but for those in business. Skype still carries the strap, but Google Hangout is making serious noise. Skype’s branding is powerful given that their name is being used as a verb. Whenever I think about making a video call I say, “Hey, you wanna Skype?” or “Hey, let’s Skype later!” It falls in the same category of brands which replaced the actual product name such as Google, Kleenex, and Xerox. Here’s the kicker: sometimes I will say Skype even when I mean to refer to Google Hangout instead. It is a powerful forum and has helped me connect with my closest family and friends during my Peace Corps service. Without it, I do not know how my relationships or psyche would change.

The only downside to Skype is its limitation on users for a video chat without paying a premium, which makes Google Hangout a threat. Since winter, I have completely switched from Skype calls to Google Hangout when conducting a business/group meeting. The speed of the platform is a lot quicker and clearer than Skype. It also allows more users to collaborate at any given time for free. Perhaps this will change after a lengthy trial period but I am taking full advantage of it now. For example, this morning we conducted a meeting that hosted six members simultaneously!

I have a fondness for seeing and hearing from people when communicating, which makes video chat my most preferred and used medium here in Moldova. All of my current group meetings are conducted on Google Hangout, while the majority of one-on-one chats unfold on Skype. I retain the most information from these discussions. My hands are free to take notes on a computer or note pad, I can gauge my counterpart’s interest through facial expressions, and generally I enjoy seeing the person I am talking to. I envision email slowly being phased out over the next 10 years to the point where video chat addresses are regularly swapped amongst business professionals and placed on business cards. I for one will be adding mine to my next set of 100.

1) Letter – Just when you thought you had me figured out, I came through the back door, ate your cookies, then saved enough time to point and laugh at you. This makes no sense whatsoever, right? I hate texts, I hate email, therefore save the novel. But never mistake: I love to read. Writing letters is an ancient yet timeless art. These are not to be confused with birthday cards. Those do not count. I consider it cheating. Screw you Hallmark! Nothing replaces originality and I read past laziness. Letters are hand-crafted to each and everyone of us. We know the person did not copy and paste something, did not mistakenly write their feelings when drunk (which actually would be quite impressive), did not mass-send it to us, and did not transmit to us by accident. I do not care how elementary the language nor how short the message, each letter has its own beauty. Although I can admit it is not the most efficient mode of business communication, letter writing is most definitely effective.

Case-in-point: I have told this story once before in my former blog, Internal Tap (R.I.P.) but here I go again. The legend is about my admission interview into the International MBA program at the University of South Carolina (USC). In February 2011, I flew down to South Carolina to visit the campus, to experience Columbia, and to meet the admissions directors personally to feel out their character. I had prepared for the interview and tried hard to look my damn best (red tie, little smirk in the mirror, freshly shaved unibrow). After killing question after question I was given two criticisms at the end of the interview: 1) you are a little young and inexperienced for the program and 2) you sent us admission essays to another university. I felt doomed in that moment. All of the hard work and money spent to get down there had been wasted. Post-interview I sulked for a good half hour walking around the campus and then thought, “What the hell can I do to study here this summer?!”

Thinking long and hard about who I am and what I would like to receive, only one thought came to mind: write thank you letters. I hustled to the university bookstore and bought paper, then began writing not one, not two, but five handwritten letters to each director of admissions. I realized that I effed up pretty bad and that this would be the only way to redeem myself. For three hours I tore through each letter, crafting a new message, pointing out something specific that I enjoyed about the reader and their university. Nevertheless, I left Columbia with doubts and little hope.

Three weeks later, while working part-time in Chicago I received an email from USC titled, “Admission Decision”. I was extremely nervous, but just wanted to rip the band-aid off as quick as possible. I took one breath and pressed open. Staring back at me from the monitor was one big beautiful bolded phrase: “CONGRATULATIONS! You have been accepted.” I owe it all to the letters and they mentioned it too, thereafter.

What lessons like these continue to teach me is that the more I give to others, the more I receive in return. It is not a selfish decision to make, but a selfless one. I like to connect these ideals to my daily communication with the people that surround me. After time, people are our greatest resource. We cannot always be in the presence of those we communicate with so make that extra effort in making yourself visible and heard. Stop taking shortcuts and rushing to get the message across!

Put life into what you mean. That little extra can make you irreplaceable.

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