Resolve to accommodate others’ communications preferences

Jan. 1, 2015

Email remains a very important tool for the majority of online workers, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, which I reported on here. Phones are much less important, with a minority of respondents reporting that landlines and cellphones are very important.

What about voicemail? Pew didn’t address that question. However, Meta Wagner in today’s Boston Globe offers this anecdotal evidence: “COCA-COLA recently announced that it offered the employees at its Atlanta headquarters the option of turning off their voicemail. Ninety-four percent opted in with a resounding ‘heck, yeah.’”

Wagner, who teaches creative writing at Emerson College and is working on a book on creativity, reports that two-thirds of Americans have stopped listening to voicemail. “Millennials, in particular,” she writes, “are convinced that the 20 or so seconds it takes to listen to a voicemail is time better spent inventing the next billion-dollar app or getting marijuana legalized in their home state.”

I tend to be with the millennials here. I’m not concerned about marijuana laws here in Massachusetts, but voicemail seems rather cumbersome. At the very least, you have to track down a piece of paper and pencil (pretty low tech) to copy down any important information the voicemail might contain. I recently got a new phone and liked the “Visual Voicemail” feature that would use speech recognition to transcribe my voicemail messages and present them in text, but I chose not to continue this feature for $10 per month after the trial period.

Part of the problem with establishing effective person-to-person communications is the proliferation of the means of communications: voice calls, voicemail, social media, email, text messages, video calls, and so on—and each person has very specific preferences about which channel he or she will or will not use. Writes Wagner, “We’ve all become so particular about two-way communication that it’s a miracle anyone ever connects.”

Wagner explains that after 40 years of Burger King’s “have it your way” campaign, we’ve all been trained to be very particular. But I can have a burger with the works and you can have one without pickles and lettuce, and we can still enjoy having lunch together. But when it comes to communications, if I only use email and you only use Twitter, then, to quote another decades-old slogan, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

What’s to be done? Wagner points out that today’s world of nonstop communications can be stressful. Our tendency to insist on particular communications channels is a means of exerting some control.

But let’s resolve, at least for the next few days or weeks, to try to be more accommodative of others’ communications preferences. We might learn that some are more effective than we had thought.

Happy New Year.

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