Verbal and Written Communications

Many people think that there is no better way to communicate than through written messages and that written communications should be used without exception. Today, with the use of e-mail, this feeling is becoming stronger. It is not unusual to see e-mail messages being exchanged between people who sit ten feet from one another. Verbal and written communications each have their place, and it is important that the correct medium be used for each communication.

Verbal communications are faster than written ones; they allow us to keep the message simple and present one thought at a time to the listener. Because verbal communications are two way, we are able to get feedback from the receiver before going on. If the feedback coming from the receiver does not confirm that he or she got the message, the message can be modified and the point made in another way. Questions can be raised by the receiver to help clarify the point.

Written communications can be more detailed than verbal ones and can be used to explain something that is quite complex and requires more explanation than the receiver can absorb in a short verbal exchange. The written communication can be better organized than a verbal communication, and if it is properly organized, the receiver is able to go back and review material already read.

One of the reasons why so many people use e-mail is the timing issue. E-mail can be sent quickly when the sender has the time and motivation to send it. It is read and acted upon when the receiver has the time and motivation to act on it. In many ways this is much better than communicating by telephone. While the telephone gives instant communication, the person being called is usually interrupted while doing something and must change his or her thinking to deal with the person calling on the telephone.

In my classes I usually do an exercise where a group of five or six people is forced to communicate with written communications only. They are given a simple problem to work out that requires input from each of them. They are required to follow strict reporting procedures similar to procedures used in most companies. They are given ten minutes to solve the problem, and fewer than one-tenth of one percent ever solve it. The groups are then allowed to discuss the problem and do anything that they can to communicate. When they are allowed to use free and open communications without restrictions, they all solve the problem in about sixty seconds.

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