What Situations Should You Handle in Person?

It’s been a while since I covered situations that should be handled in person vs. some form of remote technology, but the topic remains relevant as our technological toys continue to multiply and take over more of our lives. I’m reminded of a comment by Steve Cook, an Executive VP at Dynetics: “If all you’re doing is emailing, you’re not communicating.”

What Can Be Handled Via Technology

Technology is great for communicating facts or questions about facts. The tools (as of 2019) include:

  • Text messaging.
  • Instant messaging.
  • Email.
  • Hard copy/paper document.
  • Website/social media.

Content where you can use these tools without a lot of stress or controversy include:

  • Event time/location.
  • Technical facts or content (reports, statistics, etc.).
  • Non-sensitive requests (e.g., vacation, unless you’re asking to take leave during a particularly busy time).

Situations That Should Be Handled More Personally

Where technology breaks down is when we need to convey something with an emotional component. There could be a question or concern about what you want to share or ask (see the vacation example, above). There could be a lot of emotional impact to what you have to say. Sometimes you need to see something that cannot be conveyed well using just words, however descriptive. Most people talk more quickly than they type, so it’s easier to ask questions as they arise in person. Examples include:

  • Giving feedback on a document or someone’s behavior.
  • Discussing an issue affecting job security or benefits.
  • Discussing a complex work task.
  • Describing a physical process.
  • Having a conversation with legal or human resource sensitivities.
  • Negotiating a salary or work conditions.

The tools available for more nuanced situations include:

  • In-person meeting or a visit to someone’s office.
  • Telephone call if a meeting is not practicable but you still need to hear/convey emotional subtleties with tone of voice.
  • FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, or other video conferencing application.
  • Site visits.

Exceptions

Some things, regardless of how emotionally wrought, are still best on paper. This is because human beings have gotten used to having certain things stated “on the record” for legal purposes, so there is no doubt what is being said. (That said, some lawyers and lawmakers still make a living by (mis)interpreting legal documents differently, alas.) These situations include:

  • Official complaints.
  • Requests for proposals (RFPs).
  • Proposals.
  • Policies or policy changes.
  • Contract provisions.
  • Legal documents/agreements.
  • Offer or termination letters.

If you’re in doubt about how something should be received, you could ask yourself a few questions:

  • How do you feel about sending X as a text message?
  • Would you want to receive similar news electronically?
  • Will an electronic communication of X come across as “cold” or unfeeling?
  • Do you expect a lot of heated questions?
  • Are there legal implications to what you’re sharing?

Human beings are emotional creatures, and sometimes our technologies are not the most effective ways to convey or receive those emotions. Make certain you are communicating.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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