Editorial: Meetings, calls, emails, texts...

Apr 24, 2014

No method of communication is perfect, but each is best for certain situations, Mark Zweig writes.

As leaders and managers of A/E/P or environmental firms, we all share one thing: lack of time. We work in project-oriented businesses. Clients and team members need our attention. And problems back at the office have to be dealt with as well. As some of the best people in our firms, we get overloaded. Our lack of time means we have to use the time we have wisely. But that may be in conflict with our generally preferred methods of communication. Let’s take the case of “Bob,” a busy principal in decent-sized, specialized consulting firm. He’s very involved in his projects and he travels a lot. He also holds a corporate post where several other departments report to him. Bob considers himself a good communicator. He is a good communicator. People like him – he’s not full of bull – and he has a good clear head on his shoulders. Problem is he prefers face-to-face communication. He’s a good looking guy, sincere, and effective at business development. He knows face-to-face communication is his strong point. But he doesn’t have time for all the meetings he “needs” to have. So things may get stalled off until he can schedule a face-to-face. And that’s not good for him or whatever issue needs to be resolved. He’d be well-served to use more phone calls or even emails when on the road to resolve critical problems. It’s not the best way to communicate, perhaps, for him or anyone else, but it still may be better than doing nothing until a meeting can be held. It would increase his effectiveness to do more with the tools he can use 24 hours a day, no matter where he happens to be. Then there’s the case of “Sue.” She’s a busy firm manager herself, who is also highly billable. She, too, is very competent and highly organized. But she is the opposite of “Bob” in that she avoids all face-to-face meetings and phone calls. Instead, she wants to only communicate via email. She will send an email to someone on the other side of the room when she could simply speak to them. She’s an introvert. Plus, she likes the ability to refer back to all instructions she’s given and decisions she’s made. Email is therefore her preferred form of communication. As a result, her relationships suffer. No one really knows her – she stays in her office, close to her computer – so they don’t trust her. Not good because the lack of trust is hurting her effectiveness. So what is the best way to communicate? There is no best way. Different people and different situations require different communication methods. Sometimes a meeting is necessary because of trust issues or to go over things that can’t be dealt with through email or some other way. Sometimes a call will suffice if a meeting can’t be held for any number of reasons. And sometimes an email may be the best way to get all the facts out in a logical and clear manner and to provide some sort of audit trail. Finally, sometimes texting is an effective way to communicate. When you have little to say but want to get it out quietly and privately, a text message can be useful. We text in BoD meetings oftentimes instead of passing notes around like we used to in the olden days. All four communication methods are effective when used properly and at the right time. If your managers are struggling to keep up, or are having problems with their relationships inside and out of the company, this is one area to investigate. Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com. This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1053, originally published 4/28/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.