Choose the right messaging medium

Sometimes you just have to take a step back and point out the obvious.

Today was one of those times. I was in the middle of typing out a detailed email message that was going to be longer than five sentences when a blinding flash of the obvious hit me: pick up the phone.

So I did and it worked. I’m glad that I started typing the email, but very glad that I didn’t click send. Starting to type things out allowed me to collect my thoughts around a difficult conversation. When I picked up the phone, I was clear and concise and convincing. And I think the person that I talked to appreciated that.

Many business professionals carry around an iPhone, Blackberry, Treo or other smartphone. So there is the opportunity to talk, text message or email right from the palm of your hand. But it doesn’t take an email ninja to know when to use the right tool, just one simple rule:

Respect the recipient.

If you have something difficult to share with someone, don’t hide behind an email message. Yes, write a letter or create an outline to organize your thoughts at first. Hiding behind the email message will actually make it more difficult for you in the long run. My rule is that if you are having a hard time picking up the phone, you probably really need to pick up the phone.

If you need an answer right away, email is not the best choice. Yes it is true, email is seriously fast, but it also creates email inbox clutter. Most people leave hundreds or thousands of messages in their email, so if you can simply send a quick instant message with your question, you might just get an immediate answer!

Text messages are great for the one-liners that are time sensitive. Examples such as, “Caught in long meeting and running late,” or “Please stop for pizza on the way home,” or “Do not cut the blue wire.” SMS is relatively instant and if for some reason it doesn’t get through, it keeps trying. For the recipient, they get some form of a beep. If needed, responses are typically very short, such as “No prob,” “OK,” or “Too late.”

What are your best suggestions that “respect the recipient” for phone, email, IM and text messages?