Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The 'Missing S' Factor: Tiny Bits Of Information, Big Impact

Precision in virtual communications is critical. This week, I was part of a team making a presentation to a prospective client. Apart from the ominous blizzard that greeted me the night I arrived,I expected things to run pretty smoothly. The car rental firm was very nice - upgrading my car and making sure it had a GPS installed for my 1 1/2 drive from the airport to my hotel. Weather conditions were nasty, but I looked at them as adding flavor to the adventure (something to do with the male psyche, perhaps!).

Next morning, I left the hotel one hour before the presentation, and programed the address I'd been sent via an e-mail into the GPS. Twenty minutes later, I arrive at a shabby appartment block that in no way could have been my desired location (times are hard for many clients, but not that hard). I make a call to my main client contact, but all I get is voice mail, and e-mail didn't give me any alternatives like a cell phone number. I call a colleague in the U.S. to go online and direct me to the main company site. After several hair-raising mis-turns onto crowded one-way streets, I arrive at the main site. It's already client presentation time, and it involves video-conferencing links with stakeholders in a number of countries.

I run into a building and show the receptionist the address I have. After a search, she finds that I need to be at Building 23 (which wasn't communicated in the instructions). "But is the address I have the correct one?" I asked, "because I showed up at someone's appartment. I'm sure they thought I was looking for illegal substances." She looked at the address again. "Not quite," she replied. "There's an 'S' missing at the end of of the street name. 'S' for South. A tiny piece of information that contributed to my being 45 mins late for a very important presentation. Any lessons?

Check before sending. Easy communication methods often lead to easy mistakes. We exchange more, but communicate less. Are all the key bits and bytes included and easily visible?
Switch perspectives. Put yourself in the receivers place. Are there any words or phrases used that could create ambiguity or uncertainty?

And, if you are the receiver,

Check on vital information. It may take a short amount of time, but could save you a lot of time and stress later.

I'd love to hear your stories about missing bits and bytes in e-mails.

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