Communication Channels


Avoid choosing a communication channel based on personal convenience and ease of use.  E-mail may be simpler, but sometimes you need to connect interpersonally, have rapid, face-to-face feedback or read non-verbal cues and hear vocal nuances.  In those cases, face-to-face may be preferred.  Conversely, a message sender might prefer to make face-to-face contact, but the situation might warrant a memo or e-mail.

So what?

The communication channels you choose have a profound effect on the level of effectiveness you achieve.  Every channel has its limitations and there is always a tradeoff when selecting one channel over another.


When writing e-mails, divide material into short paragraphs, putting the main point of each paragraph first. Double-space between paragraphs to add white space. Conclude in a straightforward way, avoiding clichés such as, “let me know if I can be of any more assistance”.

So what?

Users tend to glance over e-mails quickly. These techniques help them grasp your message with short lines and short paragraphs. Over-used statements drag out the ending and do not provide needed information.


Incorporate more courtesies such as “please” and “thank you” in e-mails. Use language that expresses collegiality. For example, if you want to show deference to your audience, try softening verbs by adding “this might work”. Use emoticons such as :-), in only the most informal e-mails.

So what?

Written communication lacks important nonverbal cues that relay the tone and feel of your remarks. As a result, you have to rely more on expressive language to convey your feelings.


Use a “rich” communication channel for persuasive situations. A rich channel allows you to receive and provide instantaneous feedback. For example, if you need to garner support for a potentially controversial program, have a face-to-face meeting rather than use e-mail or voice mail.

So what?

Persuasive situations demand that the sender is able to quickly adapt the message to the receiver to counter any objections. Neither e-mail nor voice mail provide that ability. Face-to-face communication offers the sender the greatest flexibility.


Use e-mail to transmit factual information, not to criticize a colleague or communicate a sensitive message. In writing e-mails, make sure the subject line is simple, descriptive and attracts the reader’s attention. When making a request, use an action verb in the subject line, such as “Provide input on slides”.

So what?

E-mail is a “lean” channel that does not allow for quick feedback, or the ability to read non-verbal cues. Therefore, it is best for non-emotional, objective messages. The subject line is the gateway to further communication. In the case of making a request, users are more likely to open e-mail requesting specific action.


When writing e-mails, state up front any requests for action and information the reader must see. Preview and number multiple points, requests, or steps to be taken. For example, write “This e-mail explains the six steps you need to take to change health insurance providers.”

So what?

These techniques make it more likely that the message will be read and understood. The underlying assumption is that the reader will look at the first screen of your message. If the message is longer, the preview alerts them to scroll down.