Communication Skills & Modes

Having great communication skills - spoken or written - is one thing. Knowing which mode or tool to use to communicate in which context is a whole different skill that needs to be mastered as well - which will "complement" your communication skills.

Unfortunately, many experienced people - even at their workplaces - are clueless as to which tool to use in what context and give the not-so-graceful or effective communication experience to other people involved. On an earlier project, I was asked to differentiate between various modes of communication and when to use which. So, which mode is appropriate for which task? Here are the popular modes of communication and their contextual uses. If you stick to these guidelines, people will understand that you are smart and good at using the right communication tool in the right context:

Face-to-face talk (swing by)

  • Most distracting
  • Inability to refocus back on task mostly
  • Obliged to answer immediately
  • Get instant answers
  • Answer even if in the middle of something
  • Likely to derail mind from the current task ("OK, where was I...?")

Phone call

  • Distracting
  • Inability to refocus back on task
  • Obliged to answer or ignore
  • Get instant answers or leave a voice message
  • Answer even if in the middle of something
  • Likely to derail mind from the current task

Text Message / Chat / Instant Messenger

  • Less distracting
  • Ability to finish the current task before responding
  • Ability to refocus back on the current task instantly
  • Quick, short messages that go back and forth and not ideal for email
  • Messages that are likely to have brief and readily obtained answers
  • Not meant for being catalogued or indexed for searches later
  • Eg: URL, email ID, item ID, password, side conversations during a conference call, to find out if the person is available in his seat, Video-chat, share desktop and files

Organized Meeting / Web-conference

  • Less distracting than chat/text messages
  • Can schedule a meeting in future
  • Can pre-pone/post-pone a meeting
  • Can cancel a meeting
  • Can accept a meeting request, tentatively
  • Can suggest a different date/time
  • Can decline a meeting request
  • Can come up with an agenda for the meeting
  • ​Can come prepared for the meeting
  • Can have a Q&A session at the end of the meeting
  • Can accept feedback and comments on the meeting
  • Can organize a follow-up meeting
  • Can compose and send out the minutes of the meeting


  • Least distracting of all
  • Can attend to it much later – maybe a couple of times a day
  • Can even keep the email client closed for most of the day
  • Can turn on email notifications with a brief preview bubble in the status bar
  • Can mark a message as read/unread/flag/color/organize and setup a follow-up reminder/meeting
  • Ability to refocus back on the current task instantly
  • Messages that do not need immediate attention
  • Meant for long messages
  • Significant information that need to be retained or documented for later
  • Email messages that serve as a record and reference
  • Catalogued and indexed for searches later

What do you think? Do post your comments...

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