Remember, technology is just a tool; it’s people skills that build careers, reputations

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Fast forward and, for better or worse, that wish has come true for most of us. Now, we’re receiving messages in seconds through computers, cellular phones, fax machines and pagers. We’re still checking the mailbox – a computerized mailbox – on a regular basis and, good grief, all the mail is for us. Sometimes we find a message we’ve been waiting for, but it may be among 25 or 50 others. And some of those messages aren’t ours to begin with; rather, others who think we might be interested forward them.
Technology has been a boon to communication. We can exchange messages around the world, 24 hours a day, saving time and money. With all the benefits, why do we hear so many complaints about e-mail and voice mail? Well, when you’re on a superhighway, even an information superhighway, you have to learn the rules of the road. Savvy communicators are aware of them and use the new technology wisely, not only to send messages but also to solidify relationships. Here are four key road rules.
Be discreet when using your cell phone – I may be your CEO’s cousin
I was waiting to catch a plane last week, and the gentleman sitting next to me in the gate area made a call on his cell phone. He worked for a well-known local firm and was talking about who (by name) was doing well at work, who wasn’t, and who was running to “daddy,” the CEO, whom he named as well. This man was oblivious to the rest of us sitting around him, waiting to board our plane. If you’re using your phone in public, move to a private area. With respect to others, if possible, use a vibrating system rather than a ring outside your car or office. And remember, others can pick up cell calls over the air and listen in. Avoid using specific names and numbers whenever possible.
Use e-mail for taking care of business
Has everyone heard as many tales of woe as I have about people who have sent e-mails directed to one party, but which were accidentally sent to another? There was the marriage proposal that became a broadcast message, the gossip about a co-worker that was sent to that person. E-mail within a company belongs to the company, and while most companies don’t read what’s sent, they have the right to do so. Compose mail that, if read by someone other than the recipient, would present no problems for you or for anyone else.
Who is Larry
and why am I
getting his mail?
In my management consulting practice, I hear complaints about the number of e-mail and voice-mail messages forwarded as FYI’s (For Your Information). One busy professional told me that she was receiving many messages which she didn’t have time for and added no value to her work. The final straw was a multi-page e-mail to someone named Larry, someone she didn’t know or work with, and forwarded to her as an “FYI.” She decided FYI would now mean “For Your Irritation.” Not wishing to be irritated, she no longer reads any forwarded messages. Think twice before you forward e-mail or voice mail. Are you providing information or irritation?
Never lose sight of your colleagues on the receiving end
They’re receiving not only the message on the screen or phone, but seeking the message between the lines. Some messages are absolutely appropriate for e-mail or voice mail. Others, such as manager/staff issues, customer or client challenges or interpersonal conflicts deserve face-to-face discussion. Either way, clear, concise, caring communication is always appreciated. Your messages can convey that you are a bright, team-oriented problem solver. On the other hand, you may broadcast to many people at once that you are insensitive and unfocused and, by the way, have little ability (as demonstrated through e-mail) to spell or use appropriate grammar.
Final thoughts
Use technology to keep in touch, to save time and money, to clarify and simplify. As with any tool, you can’t use it for everything. Ask yourself, what is the best way to communicate this message at this time? Then, take a moment to organize your thoughts. Be clear, concise and caring as you send your message. Savvy professionals (and a number of studies) agree that reputations and careers are built on people skills as much or more than technical skills. Using both as you travel the superhighway will keep you cruising toward success.
Lynne Pearson is executive vice president of Joan Lloyd & Associates, a Wauwatosa-based firm specializing in organizational change and leadership development. She can be reached at (800)348-1944.

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