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Helping Others Adjust to Your Communication Style

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I’ve noticed that web workers tend to be particular about their communication tools. Twitter is usually for mass sharing, wikis or collab apps are for project discussions, while email is for almost everything else.

We all have our own preferences when it comes to communicating with others. I prefer email for general communication, instant messaging for answering quick questions, and my land line for long, personal conversations.

But not all people understand this – especially if they aren’t web workers. In fact, before I had a system in place, I felt like a doctor who was on call 24 hours a day. The good news is that there are some things we can do to get people to reach us through the channels we prefer.

Don’t provide excuses for others. When others are intruding on your working hours, it’s important that you don’t excuse them for it. “Yes, it’s perfectly alright that you called while I’m in the middle of work, after all, it’s normal for you to assume I’m not busy because I’m home all the time.” In a way, that’s what you’re saying when you allow others to interrupt you during what should be sacred working time.

Set barriers in place. Answering machines, voice mail, and virtual assistants prove to be effective barriers during the time you should be working. They can be used to filter incoming communication, allowing you to schedule return calls according to your needs.

Since my cellphone is used for non-urgent personal communication, so I usually leave it on silent mode unless I’m expecting to meet up with friends or family. This allows me to work during the day without being distracted by forwarded text messages or friends who only want to ask “What’s up?” I only respond to these messages when I’m done with work.

Another barrier you could use is to set up a schedule. I have someone who responds to urgent customer support, but clients who want to discuss something with me directly will have to wait a couple of hours for a scheduled chat. This prevents overeager clients from eating up all your work hours with customer service alone. Don’t get me wrong – you need to be there when your clients need you. But how can you do the work you’re paid to do if you spend most of your waking hours talking about the work rather than doing it?

Have separate channels for work and your personal life. Since most of my clients are from different continents, I tend to communicate with them mostly via a work email address, Skype, and instant messaging. My cellphone and land line are for family and friends only, making it easier to avoid personal calls when I want to work.

Some people even have two different phones for business and personal use. Having separate channels is useful because when it’s time for business, you can shut down your personal lines to prevent unnecessary interruptions. Conversely, if you’re having dinner with friends, you don’t want to pick up a business call in the middle of the meal.

Encourage compliance. My mother used to be a heavy email forwarder. She would send me several chain letters and PowerPoint presentations daily, making me waste over an hour each week selecting and deleting her emails. As an Inbox Zero practitioner, this annoyed me. Instead of accepting my situation as it is, I told her (tactfully, of course) how her mindless forwarding made me feel. She doesn’t send those messages anymore.

Tim Ferriss has another approach when it comes to email. He recommends checking your email only twice a day and setting up an autoresponder that tells people your email-checking schedule, estimated time/day of reply, and how to reach you for emergencies. For him, this prevents you from receiving those “Did you get my email?” messages.

If you implement your communication channels well, your friends, family, and colleagues will have no choice but to stick to it. My relatives seem to have given up randomly calling me during the day, and my friends don’t expect me to respond to their text messages immediately.

Don’t forget to adjust to others yourself. Of course, when you’re the recipient of messages and phone calls, people must respect your system. Keep in mind that other people out there have their own systems that you should follow if you want to contact them.

Do you have a streamlined way of receiving communication from others? Has it worked for you? What are the challenges of being available 24/7 via multiple channels such as email, blogs, and mobile phones?

Image by Per Hardestam from

3 Responses to “Helping Others Adjust to Your Communication Style”

  1. Melanie A.

    I’d love to hear some tips on containing instant messaging to the truly useful. I’m one who generally despises trying to work with my IM client booted– to me, it’s too much like working with the phone ringing constantly.

    Yet some customers require it, and I’ll concede that it’s great for rapid back-forth discussion. How do you keep IMs on track and from interrupting a productive block of time?