Sunday, November 04, 2007

Media Discretion: How to Use the Phone

Everyone uses the phone for business, but how?

As someone who worked in Silicon Alley in the early 90s, I felt quite sure that I understood online trends. I even wrote about them for a large consulting firm.

Clued in, me.

However, somehow I forgot all this when it came to training a high-level employee, very smart, but very young.

Young here doesn't mean immature: instead, it indicates a digital divide.

And I'm supposed to be an expert.

What Happened

From the first meeting I had with my employee (call him Joe) and our client, it was clear that he knew what he was doing. He had exceptional instincts.

Joe's job: new business development within educational communities.

In person he is an excellent communicator, and has good judgment about timing (when to say what to whom to greatest effect).

However, when I left Joe on his own, what I neglected to take into account in a majority of cases, he sent email rather than having real time conversation with new clients.

I'm talking voice here, of course, not text.

Lesson 1: How to Use the Phone

One day, I got four angry phone calls from three different people involved in the project. Every one of them seemed to be very upset about something entirely different.

Then I figured out that the common problem was none of the specifics explicitly stated in loud, angry voices.

It was email.

This Might Sound Obvious to Us (Not Even That Much) Older Folk . . .

At the root of every mess was the assumption that email 1) conveys transparently the intended meaning of the sender, 2) is read immediately, and 3) is the most effective way to communicate decisions.

It never occurred to my young executive to pick up the phone and find out what was going on.

We Lost the Client

Ultimately, it's my fault for not anticipating this problem. In fact, I've never trained anyone so young.

There was nothing wrong in the email in terms of what was said -- it was the fact that an email was sent at all.

I assumed that this sort of relationship management would be common sense to someone with Joe's flawless in-person communication skills.

But how would he learn media discretion if he only talks on the phone when text was unavailable?

Back to Pop Tech in the next post.

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