If the information is of a sensitive nature, a personal conversation is best. If it is called for, a one-on-one conversation will enable you to express your opinion tactfully and in a caring manner. Your voice can add an entire dimension of emotion that written words, even by the best of writers, cannot convey. If there is the likelihood of a misunderstanding, a one-on-one conversation or a group meeting makes it easier to eliminate any misunderstandings before they arise. Any errors or confusions can also be resolved immediately.
If the message is so important that it demands immediate communication, you should probably walk over and sit down with the employee.
Other things it is important to do in person are introducing yourself to a new colleague, negotiating for resources, and brainstorming.
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When should you put something in writing? You put a message in writing when:
- Legal or other formal documentation is needed.
- A written reprimand has to go into an employee’s file.
- Time is critical. It is far faster for most people to read words than to listen to them.
- The subject is complicated and a misunderstanding will occur if it isn’t in writing.
- Hard copy will be needed sooner or later, either for distribution or for recordkeeping.
- The issue is one over which you want control. (By putting words to paper, you exert control over the issue from the beginning.)
- Multiple copies will need to go to people. You can e-mail or broadcast fax, rather than use paper, if it is a more efficient way to communicate to a large group.
- Your position needs to be put in writing to protect you. This is particularly so if you are in opposition to actions that others plan to take.
A written memo might follow a rejection, for example, of an employee’s request for a transfer. Rather than get immediately to the bad news, you might begin, "Michael, I’m responding to your request that we consider you for the opening in the communications office in San Viejo." This neutral opening and matter-of-fact tone set the stage for the news: "I am afraid that we need you in our office in New York City. I understand how disappointing this may be." If the situation might change in the employee’s favor, you could end in an upbeat tone: "If circumstances change, we will reconsider your request."
When shouldn’t you put something in writing? Certainly you shouldn’t put something in writing when you are angry and your remarks could come back to haunt you. You also shouldn’t spend time writing when the document isn’t worth the time to be written. When the message isn’t worth the time spent with pen in hand, and a one-on-one conversation is difficult, then make a phone call instead.