The Lost Art of Communication 

Melissa Maichle .

Remember the days before smart phones, text messaging and IM? If you don’t, we’ll give you an idea of what it was like. When you went to pick up a friend, you had to get out of your car, walk to the door, and ring the doorbell. It was rude to beep your horn. In the office, if you needed to discuss something with a colleague, you had to go to their desk or call their landline phone. We won’t even get into the logistics involved when trying to schedule a meeting! It’s a lot easier today, but how do you know which of the many options is best for the situation? 

While IM, like text in our personal lives, is convenient and even better, immediate, it has limited usefulness in a business setting. Here are some occasions to avoid using IM: 

  • The person you want to talk to is showing as offline or unavailable. An IM is the digital equivalent of stopping by someone’s desk. You wouldn’t hang out at a colleague’s desk while they are on the phone or not even there. 
  • When you are making a request that is complicated, may require clarification, or in any way may result in an ongoing conversation. 
  • When you want to document the conversation for some reason – unless you want to take screenshots along the way. 

In the situations above, email may be better, but not all emails are created equal. An effective email will include the purpose in the first sentence, and further clarification, if necessary, in the ensuing sentences. And finally, a timeframe for delivering what is being asked. Here’s an example: 

Dear Joe, 

I am writing to ask for an update to report #23. Please add columns for the students’ states of residence and dates of birth. I need this information for our auditors who are visiting on May 15, so please make this modification by the 12th so I have time to review before their visit. 

Feel free to contact me if you have questions. 

Thank you, 


Whether you’re using IM or email the recipient cannot read tone. As a result, friendly banter in person can be perceived very differently in writing, no matter how may emoticons you use. It’s best to stick to the issue at hand and save the chit chat for the break room or your online meeting platform. 

Also, be sparing with the dreaded Reply All button. Think about whether everyone who received the email needs to see your response before choosing Reply All over Reply. For example, if you have a question about something related but not important to some/all the other recipients, it may be best to use the Reply button. 

Another tip is that you do not have to send an email when all you are saying is ‘thank you.’ It may seem rude, but if you think about it, it’s just one more email in their inbox to open and delete. It doesn’t add value to the conversation. 

Sometimes, it’s simply best to talk live and in person and with today’s technology, it’s no longer a requirement to have everyone in the same room. Some tips for effective meeting scheduling include:

  • Before scheduling a meeting, think about what you want to accomplish and who you need ‘at the table’ to do so. And always use the scheduling tab to make sure you’re not inviting anyone at a time they won’t be able to attend since you know you need them there. 
  • Let the people you are inviting know the purpose of the meeting and what they need to do ahead of the meeting to be prepared to participate. 
  • Have an agenda and stick to it. 
  • Take notes to share with the attendees to make sure everyone understands the decisions made and/or next steps needed. 

Meetings should have a purpose whether it is to brainstorm solutions to a challenge, collect requirements for a new program or process, or work on a group task. Information sharing meetings are nice at intervals, but if there is something you really need your team or your colleagues in other departments to know, written correspondence is better. Not only because the recipients can save it for reference later (ever try to find meetings notes weeks or months after a meeting?), but because you have documentation that you shared said information. 

So many communications platforms and so little time! Even so, it’s worth spending a little extra time determining the most effective way to get your message across. It will always save you time and work down the road. And, we all have plenty of things we need to do. That said if you’re too overwhelmed with work due to open positions on your team, the Higher Education Assistance Group can help. Check out our interim staffing solutions or email us at for more information.