With all the choices of correspondence methods today, it is not always clear how to best communicate.
I so enjoy receiving traditional holiday greetings from friends near and far. Beautiful cards, photos, updates, stories, contact information and sometimes entertaining prose often serve as a lifeline to friendships made through many moves over the last 30 years. There’s something heartwarming about receiving snail mail; whether it be a thank you note, a greeting card or an old fashioned letter, postal correspondence (other than marketing clutter) really grabs a person’s attention. I know I’m not alone in that sentiment because, just in our Darden community we have at least two alumni working on ventures dedicated to the art: Alexandria Drohobyczer ’07 started StargrassPaper.com and Nathan Tau ’09 runs Forgetful Gentleman, a company that was incubated in the iLab while he was at Darden.
Before 1993, people simply chose between a phone call or a written letter to connect on a business matter. Email then entered the scene and the prevalence of the digital note completely changed the way people conduct business and the way they communicate with each other. With the number of mailed letters in the U.S. down 25% from 2007 to 2013, it is no secret that written correspondence is rarely used for business correspondence. Like the letters of yore, business emails project one’s professional image. Proper punctuation, grammar and capitalization are always appropriate for business correspondence.
When choosing email to communicate, realize that your message likely will be read on a phone screen, perhaps while someone is multi-tasking. Keep your message short and ask for specific action to allow for an easy answer from the other party. If an unsolicited email requires a time consuming response, the chances are high that you will get no response. The recipient may have good intentions of getting back to you when s/he has more time… only to end up buried beneath thousands of other emails.
People 40 and younger seem to avoid verbal communication for business, whether by phone or in person, all together. Last month, I was coaching an alumna of the Class of 2011 through a job offer negotiation. She had a position of power – the company really wanted her and she had other options. As we talked about her desired outcomes, she started to draft an email. I suggested she ditch the email and negotiate either in person or on the phone. She was, quite frankly, stunned and thought that would be very “awkward.” My response was that in a discussion, you are able to hear (and see, if in person) the tone of voice and the reaction of the other person to what you say. In negotiating, that knowledge can allow you to adapt to the reaction and/or strengthen your position. Also, the other person will need to respond, in the moment, to your requests. In a discussion, you are able to build rapport and make a positive impression – that is very difficult to do in a back and forth email exchange. She ended up picking up the phone and both parties were happy with the outcome.
People often avoid phoning as they don’t want to disturb the other party in the middle of something. Keep in mind that if someone is unable to talk, they probably will not pick up the ringing phone. Be ready for voice mail, prepare to leave a crisp, articulate message that will entice the receiver to call you back. If a live person does answer, be courteous and ask if this is a good time to talk or would it be better to call back at an alternate time. Most people 50 and older grew up doing business by phone, so they may be more comfortable with this interaction than with extended email threads.
With the onset of free video conferencing capability on computers or mobile devices, people are using Skype (or other application) to connect. For pre-arranged meetings, video enables people to see body language and facial expressions while exchanging information and building rapport. For this reason, more and more companies are conducting video job interviews. Many of our career coaching sessions with alumni are conducted using Skype. For tips on how to make a good impression in a video business meeting or interview check out the tips provided in the Interview section of our website.
As we all learned in FY Management Communication, at the core of good communication is understanding your audience. Always consider which medium would be most comfortable, effective and appropriate for the person you are trying to influence. It might be a LinkedIn message to someone you know through a mutual friend that will get the notice, or it might be a personal visit to a skeptical potential client that will get the job done.
I would so enjoy a personal visit with each of you to wish you a wonderful holiday season and a peaceful and prosperous New Year. Since that is not possible, my heartfelt message is relegated to this less personal forum. With this wish please also accept an invitation to come see us back in Charlottesville, we’d love to connect in person! If that is not possible, give us a call (+1-434-924-4876) or send us an email (AlumniCareerServices@darden.virginia.edu) to set an appointment.
All the best for a happy holiday and a wonderful 2015!
Connie Dato English, MBA ’91 Director of the Armstrong Center of Alumni Career Services, University of Virginia Darden School of Business