Jane recently changed her voicemail message to the following:

(20 second voicemail)

I nearly choked while laughing the first time I heard this. What she says is true. I usually end up listening to her voicemail messages for her.

The proliferation of communication formats provides more possibilities for how we communicate. With all these format possibilities, we need a few best practices.

As a best practice, if you’re trying to maximize your communication with another person, you should generally respond in the format the queries come. If someone emails you, send them an email back. If someone calls you, call him or her back. If someone instant messages you, return with an instant message. If someone replies to you on Twitter, send a Twitter reply back. If someone comments on your blog, respond in a comment below their comment. If someone writes you a snail mail letter, dig out the old pen and paper and find a stamp to reply. If someone texts you, text them back. Why? Because that’s their communication preference, and you’re more likely to succeed at communicating with the person if you align with their preferences for communicating.

Additionally, your response can be approximately equivalent to the inquiry, for the most part. If someone writes you a two-sentence email, you don’t need to respond with a novella. Part of the appeal of Twitter is the 140 character limit.

It’s certainly not a requirement to cater to someone’s communication preference. If communicating successfully with that person isn’t a high priority, let them align with your communication preferences. But at least let them know what your preferences are, as Jane does in her voicemail. (By the way, the voicemail has worked well so far. People have stopped leaving her voicemail messages and are actually sending her email instead.)

What are my communication preferences? I prefer email for most communications. Except when I’m driving, and then I prefer the phone. I find instant messaging somewhat annoying, unless I’m bored and in the mood to chat. Twitter is fine unless the conversation clearly requires more than 140 character exchanges. But generally I don’t mind the format. I understand that each person prefers a different medium for communicating, and I try to accomodate that. It all comes together into one on my BlackBerry anyway.

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