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Electronic vs personal communication

Electronic vs personal communication

Electronic vs personal communication

In my work, my Engineering activities are usually small contributions to support a product sale. In common terms, we sell lot of semi-custom equipment, and my group supports the customizations.

Traditionally, we've found that the sooner we can consider technical and commercial things together, the better everything goes. Customers are happier, we make fewer incorrect assumptions; we succeed more often.

It seems other departments get excited about efficiency and don't like having to get up from their chair to talk, or they're working remotely. I'm seeing more use of electronic communication. Now it's chat programs in addition to telephone and email. I'm not excited by the fact that the actual dialog will slow down. We can "communicate" quickly but the value is different.

What is your opinion? Do you like the idea of electronic chatting or do you prefer conversations?

RE: Electronic vs personal communication

In my work generally face to face meetings are required at least at some regular interval. There is no way we could make real progress with drawing coordination and other items without it.

Sure a lot of little items and ideas get tossed around via electronic communication, but often issues take an actual meeting of the minds to come to the most appropriate solution.

I'm finding my projects where it's mostly electronic communication are rife with errors between different discipline's drawings, missed coordination items, change orders and pcns. I hate it.

RE: Electronic vs personal communication

I find that when a customer needs something, it's usually there consultant that sends us a form to fill out. I never fill them out. We always make a call to find out what they are needing it for, and what they really need.
Electronic is the same way. A quick answer is not what they really want. What they really want is information that is usable (although they often don't know if the information they get is usable or not).

On the other hand, our product is not customizable, but it's delivery is.

RE: Electronic vs personal communication

I prefer electronic for 90% of concerns for projects (email and phone calls) but for major issues and even progress documents I cannot imagine not having face-to-face. I often walk through a set of building plans with my concerns with the architect (client) asking how they want certain things to go. we draw sketches and ideas and come up with solutions that work best for them/us. This is the case when they do not have a remotely complete set of documents but a looming deadline and seems to be more common with Revit now.

I do not think i'd like 'chatting' dialog box programs. Glad I do not know if i'd like them to be honest.

RE: Electronic vs personal communication

Like the OP I'm heavily involved in customizing our standard products for customers these days. However, our customers are all around the world and in many cases not only time zone but also language skills can be an impediment to effective direct communication. Additionally there have been issues in the past with the conduct of sales guys taking up excess engineering time etc. so most communication goes through the local product marketing department.

As this often ends up in a case of 'the telephone game/Chinese whispers' (customer > sales > marketing > me > marketing >sales > customer....) I tend to do a lot of communication by email. While I can't stop people misunderstanding my emails, or editing them as they get forwarded etc. I at least stand a chance of seeing what was done said etc. Plus internally email can be a useful way to keep everyone on the same page without needing a meeting every couple of hours.

In some cases we do carry out conference calls or webex or similar but not that often. Plus those kinds of calls with customer normally go off into different areas of the sales opportunity so I may be on the phone for an hour when only 10 minutes really applies to me or similar so good reason to avoid them.

I also believe we generally have too many meetings, and many of them aren't efficient enough and have a lot of attendees so take a lot of resources etc. so I like to minimize them.

However I will go by and chat to folks in the office as needed for a few minutes on specific topics - I'll usually combine this with some other errand for efficiency's sake. I prefer face to face like this to phone calls when possible.

Email is far from perfect though, and can be time consuming to keep up with & archive etc. I'm intrigued by the idea of the various 'project blog' type software that partially replaces email chains for communicating & keeping track of communication but haven't looked into it much.

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RE: Electronic vs personal communication

Good discussion.

I think it's important to note that internal communication and external communications. For external, there generally needs to be documentation whether it's minutes of meeting or the email correspondence. I tend to stay more formal here, and push the documentation along after the discussion when the subject is open-ended.

Internal communications seem to be going away from the direction of a personal conversation. I feel chat messaging has a place, but I see myself receiving most chat messages, reading it, and then making a conscious decision whether to respond by phone call, personal conversation, email, or otherwise. I feel chat messaging is more drawback than benefit for most of my discussions. As we as engineers spend more time communicating and developing agreement in our solutions (vs. drafting on vellum), this is the key to efficiency.

Just wondering if anyone else feels the same.

RE: Electronic vs personal communication

I like email, although I will readily admit that a phone conversation provides more direct feedback and also lets the conversation drift in a direction that may not have been recognized at the start. Email will stick to the subject, but if the original question isn't the correct one it can take longer to focus in on the issue. I provide technical support for about 10 engineering offices around the country so direct face-to-face happens rarely. I encourage people to stop by my office if they are in the same facility, but clearly that can't happen when the conversation is between Kansas City and California. Personally I dislike the instant messenger approach. I find with email that I can read the message, drag out some reference material, check some electronic documentation, and only them formulate a response to cover the question and/or raise other issues. As mentioned earlier, email also makes it easy, sometimes too easy, to get a dozen people in the middle of an issue without calling a meeting. The only good meting in my opinion most days, is one that I'm not in. With instant messenger I feel like they are sitting on the other end of that data line waiting immediately for feedback. I don't think I'm as likely to get to the root of the problem that way. In many cases that does end up being converted into a shared computer screen in combination with a phone call. I'm one of the old dinosaurs so don't find that need for instantaneous response via electronic means.

RE: Electronic vs personal communication

Long-story short, intra-office chat programs are a godsend.

Short-story lengthened:
We have an intra-office 'chat' program that is used often. Some use it rarely, some use it all day long, for more than just work-related things.

I find that the vast majority of intra-office phone calls were better handled as 'chat' messages. A chat window can be ignored for a few seconds or minutes. If someone is away from their desk, a chat window will stay there with your message. It can also save the log of the conversation in case something specific/important needs to be referenced later.

Phone calls are disruptive. They require more prompt response. They require you to be at your desk, as well, or you miss it unless you use voicemail actively, and always check it when you return to your desk. We don't bother with voicemail here, internally. If someone isn't at their desk and needs to be reached for a phone call they are then paged, interrupting whatever they are doing, or making an annoying situation if they are in a meeting. Very disruptive.

However, phone conversations are sometimes necessary if:
1) You don't /want/ a record of what you're about to say. Nothing sinister, it can be as simple as an embarrassing admission, or a private question.
2) You're afraid you cannot compose a sentence in a way that can't be taken the wrong way. I find myself writing an email sometimes, and deciding that I keep reading it in a sarcastic or upset tone when I don't mean to. At that point, I'll often pick up the phone to make sure the tone of my voice conveys an accurate attitude.
3) Some topics -require- back-and-forth quite often, to progress, and sometimes chatting can cause too much "Talking at the same time" problems that won't happen vocally.

I'm much happier having a chat window pop up that I can ignore until I get to a better "stopping point" or can finish talking to someone in my office. It's a great stress reducer.

Email will obviously always have its place, but I find that even intra-office email conversations can sometimes have too much delay. Especially people who work on paper, aside from their computer, or have other people in their office often, and don't constantly have their email in-sight. An audible alert for a chat window is less likely to be ignored than an audible indication of new email. New email can be spam, adverts, etc, but a chat 'ding' is guaranteed to be someone you need to talk to at some point.

Face-to-face will sometimes be necessary but people who abuse it are annoying and disruptive, I believe. But sometimes it's absolutely necessary. I typically "call/chat ahead" before just walking into someone's office to speak.

RE: Electronic vs personal communication

That's an interesting point. Email is so voluminous that 24h is the only reasonable expectation for a reply. Little things get hung up in the queue. Sometime email is instant, but not always. You're describing the chat as something more rapid but still not in real-time.

I think the moral of this piece of the story is that the company have an expectation for response time. Email = 24h, chat = 15min unless occupied, voicemail = 24h, etc. I've suggested this to our company mgmt to help everyone hold similar expectations of each other, but I might be the only one who cared about it.


RE: Electronic vs personal communication

On the less-pretty side: sometimes there needs to be a confrontation. There are too many ways for people to dodge responsibility or avoid decisions. Sometimes there needs to be a moment of truth, and the only way to do that is face-to-face.

RE: Electronic vs personal communication

Quote (Jnieman)

...You're afraid you cannot compose a sentence in a way that can't be taken the wrong way. I find myself writing an email sometimes, and deciding that I keep reading it in a sarcastic or upset tone when I don't mean to. At that point, I'll often pick up the phone to make sure the tone of my voice conveys an accurate attitude...

You said it. I often delete e-mails after writing them, because I can't get the tone right. At least the written version helps me compose my thoughts on the topic, before picking up the phone to make the same point with the person.

On the other hand, opening up the chat window before calling or seeing someone in person can be like "tiptoeing" if done too often. Just come and shown it to me if you have a problem or a question. Perhaps that approach is most appropriate for people higher in seniority or authority, but the interpersonal relationship you build with co-worker peers should be stable enough to handle a few interruptions.


RE: Electronic vs personal communication

Email is an efficient way to create misunderstandings and is a communication tool that can be misused quite easily.

Most of the information conveyed in a verbal communication is not via the words but via the tone and via some unnoticeable traits of the voice and all that works on a subconscious level. Serious studies have demonstrated this. So I would work on my emotion first to calibrate it to my needs and then deliver what I need to deliver but in verbal manner. If I want to be firm or even rude on purpose I would do it also verbally and make sure it will be noticed. In addition with face to face communication you can probe in real time the reaction of the other person and that interaction helps to keep the conversation under control. Its really an art so to say. All this cannot be done via emails and again big room for misunderstandings and frustration. Let alone the overload of mailboxes for people who often are over swamped with emails specifically due to the nature of their functions (dealing with supply chain matters, etc. etc.).

If I look backward, offending words put on emails tend to leave a deeper mark on me than anything which would have been delivered verbally. That's why I find email an efficient mean to address reward and compliment to people for instance to praise the quality of their work/performance. It will be memorable. If I need to send around some minutes of meeting of course I would use email more for reason of format.

If you have the chance to work in small office, walk to the desk of the other guy and talk to them directly. Its okay to confirm the point by email later on. If you cannot talk face to face, well phone conversation is already an improvement. Chatting occasionally over some sametime tool or similar is not very bad thing when used in an appropriate manner (guess it can have same of the same drawbacks as emails).

RE: Electronic vs personal communication

Quote (OP)

Do you like the idea of electronic chatting or do you prefer conversations?

Whenever possible - both.

How many times have you called someone just to know that the person is "in the meeting"?

Advance to cellphone only lead to person now being "driving".

But at the same time there is no wrong time to send e-mail - the recipient will read it exactly when he/she feels like it.

On the other hand there are pivotal "speak now or forever hold your peace" situations like kick-off / release meetings where it helps to look into the eyes (even over Skype) and ask "are we really ready and is everyone agree?"

The in-between situations can be adjusted accordingly.

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