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Message Mediums Matter

14 May 2019 by Jason Jacobo

Yesterday evening my boss pings me:

This is not entirely shocking because I had recently fired off one of those emails. You know the ones I am talking about! The type where I was trying to express a work challenge that I needed his assistance to overcome, probably a little frustrated by it.

I feel I am a resourceful individual and able to find a means to manage the majority of challenges that I am faced with. Some challenges that are flung my way are larger than me, some are outside of my sphere of influence, some are incredibly complicated, and sometimes I need some guidance for those or other reasons. This was one of those types of challenges.

After a call discussing this with enough time to branch into a half a dozen other topics, what I had come to realize is I had mismatched my medium for communication to the message I was communicating. Today, while having a moment to reflect, I feel this is something commonly done and perhaps something worth sharing.

Thick and Thin Messages

Messages have a sort of weight to them while communication mediums have a kind of capacity to them. Thick messages require a medium that is thick to adequately carry and convey that message. Clear concise messages tend to be “thinner” and are often best conveyed via thin mediums.

An easy metaphor to describe this is the age-old cliché that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. If you have ever tried to vividly describe a visual to someone, you are also aware that it is likely a massive understatement and that a picture could never be described well enough to be conveyed as actually seen.

Choosing the right communication method pays dividends, as depicted in this image of a frustrated soul receiving counselling.

Perhaps a more modern example is when my beloved sister-in-law used to try to seek life advice from me over text messages. I think we finally worked through this after much strife and many requests to just pick up the phone. Imagine the efficiency of an architect, lawyer, or interior designer who was only able to be communicated to via tweets. Do you think it would be likely for the end-product to align with the patron’s initial vision? Try telling someone you will see them in 20 minutes via an image.  How easily will it be for them to understand the intent of your message?

The medium someone chooses says a lot as well. Marshall McLuhan famously expanded on the concept that the “medium is the message”. It is commonly accepted that the majority of communication is non-verbal and the method of communication chosen is only a fraction of that non-verbal communication.

As an example, it is understood that ending a long-term relationship over a text message is an inappropriate medium, yet it is one commonly chosen. Can we derive any messages by the medium chosen when this happens? Perhaps the sender is seeking to limit, control, or eliminate the inevitable discussion surrounding the message by choosing this method. With some more context, we may be able to predict that someone is upset, that they are not interested in dialogue, or perhaps that there is no chance for reconciliation.

Remove the noise

Communication is inherently wrought with noise that obfuscates the intended message. Although there is some flexibility with mediums, the better the match, the better chance your message will be effectively and efficiently received as it was intended. Choosing the wrong medium can instantly inject communication noise. Think of trying to have a conversation with someone next to a jackhammer, and you are close to the impact of a small-medium choice. Accordingly, a good indicator of a poor medium is a feeling that you are repeating yourself, are finding new ways to explain the same thing, or are unsuccessful at obtaining a mutual understanding altogether.

Paul’s response was perfect. I attempted to convey a couple of complicated challenges within a few sentences in an email. Rather than to try and use the medium presented to him, he recognized the mismatch and requested an escalation of the medium for communication more fitting the thickness of the message… requesting a call. What could have taken an eternity via email accomplished a mutual understanding and future direction in about five minutes via a call.

This all reminded me that I need to work towards being more cognizant of the medium I am using to convey my messages if I want to make life a little easier for myself and those around me. Hopefully writing this out encourages someone to think about the weight of their message and if the communication medium they plan to use can hold it. How are you at matching your message to an appropriate medium?

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