Yes, you read that correctly. No, I’m not crazy. Keep reading and I’ll explain.
A lot has changed in the communications world in the last quarter century. We’ve progressed from legacy PBX systems and snail mail to cloud-based VoIP telephony, text messaging, and artificial intelligence. But in our race to embrace the latest innovations, I believe we should keep in mind what good communication looks like and evaluate how these technologies make our communication more or less effective.
I am a communications engineer. I usually think about this topic from an extremely technical perspective. But as I considered how good communication occurs, I realized that we often forget the most important piece: people.
It’s ok if your eyes gloss over a bit in the next few paragraphs. I’m building my case. Keep reading and I believe you will understand my point.
First, some definitions…
Communication is essentially an exchange of information between two or more parties. It is composed of messages contained in conversations. This definition may be a bit simplistic but should work for the purpose of this article.
The purpose of a communications system is to connect…
- the right parties together
- in the right place
- at the right time
… for a successful conversation to occur.
The term digital refers most specifically to data expressed as a series of 0s and 1s, but also more generally to making use of computerized technologies that “speak this language.”
Digital communication would then be communication that encodes messages in a conversation as a series of 0s and 1s.
But is digital communication really digital? To answer this question, we need to understand the difference between analog and digital communication.
Analog vs. Digital
The term analog refers to something that is represented by a “continuous variable physical quantity.” — dictionary.com
Analog communication generally relies on waves (sound, light, electrical, etc.) to transmit information from one party to another.
The simplest forms of this might be two people talking to each other or one person waving to another. Analog telephones use the variation in electrical waves to “carry” sound waves from one party to another.
By contrast, digital communication relies on an encoded series of 0s and 1s to transmit information.
A standard telephony channel transmits information at a depth of 8 bits at a rate of 8,000 samples per second (8 kHz) for a total of 64 kbps (64,000 bits of information per second). This bit stream contains the digital representation of the analog audio input that is then transmitted to the receiving party and then decoded.
But is it really digital?
Let’s take the example of a VoIP phone call. At a first glance, it looks like this:
But this really isn’t an accurate representation of how a conversation actually works. It’s not the phones that are having the conversation, but the people using the phones.
When two people talk to each other, one person uses their mouth to generate sound waves that physically vibrate the ear drums of the other person. This is an analog conversation. Adding phones to the mix doesn’t change this. It just adds a conversion of analog to digital for transmission. (since it’s hard to shout across thousands of miles).
To put it another way…
Digital communication is the encoding and transmission of analog information that is produced and consumed by our senses.
The senses and communication
Sight – Much of the communication we consume in today’s world is based on what we can see. We see pictures, drawings, and videos, and read emails, text messages, social media posts, and blog articles like this one. When we can see the person or people that we are attempting to converse with, we may also communicate by our posture, gestures, and facial expressions.
Hearing – In person, we speak and hear each other. In the digital world, we hear each other over telephone calls, voice chats, and the audio portion of video streams. In fact, what we hear is much more important to us in a video chat than what we can see. We also listen to music, audio books, radio programs, and podcasts.
Touch – A lot of information can be conveyed in a moment by how we touch each other. We are also interested in how smooth the screen of our phone feels and the texture of our clothes. We tap our fingers in annoyance or tap a screen to select an option. We even communicate our identity by touching a fingerprint scanner.
Smell and Taste – These are often overlooked as methods of communication, but are just as significant. We wear deodorant or perfume that sends the message we want it to. Chain restaurants modify the taste of dishes to match regional preferences.
Understanding this topic is really quite essential to the success of your business (and just about everything else in life). Your business will only be as successful as it is effective in its communication.
In the 21st Century, we need to think about communication more broadly. Yes, digital communication has revolutionized how we conduct business and the speed with which its transactions can occur. But to effectively communicate, we must do so in the context of our senses.
Here are a few questions to ask that will help to gauge the effectiveness of your communication (both personally and as a business):
1. Is your communication engaging?
Be sure you are thinking about the physical senses involved in your communication. This goes beyond simple marketing. Does your communication demand the attention of the recipient’s senses? Think of the last time you passed by your favorite restaurant. Chances are, you smelled it before entering and your mouth began watering in anticipation.
Think about your written and other visual communication with your coworkers and customers. Is it styled in such a way that it is easy to consume and that the most important concepts are easy to pick out? Keep it simple and avoid unnecessary clutter and distracting information.
2. Is your communication pleasant?
Continuing the restaurant analogy, if you were to enter your favorite restaurant and found that it smelled like the sewer had backed up, you probably wouldn’t stick around to eat. The same goes for other forms of communication. If the receiver doesn’t enjoy how you are attempting to share, they will be less likely to understand what you are trying to communicate.
Have you ever had an article of clothing that you really like, but it has one small thing that makes it uncomfortable? Maybe a piece of a tag stuck in a seam or a small lump in the sole of your shoe? An email with typos and grammar mistakes can be just as annoying… and yes, it’s possible that you’ll find something like that in this article – my apologies.
3. How many of the senses are you engaging?
Restaurants often send out flyers with pictures of their signature dishes. They take great care to make sure that the pictures portray their food as perfectly as possible. This is because they are only engaging one sense: sight.
A rule of thumb is that the more senses you are able to engage, the more likely it is that your message will be accurately received. Perhaps the pictures should be scratch-and-sniff. 🙂
4. Is your message being transmitted with fidelity?
This is one of the most critical parts of digital communication. It is the encoding and transporting mechanism for an analog message. The accuracy with which the message is delivered from one party to another will determine the effectiveness of the conversation.
For a telephone call, the quality of the audio is important. For a video chat, the clarity of the picture is key… along with audio synchronization, latency, etc. For pictures (and video), the correctness of the colors affects the accuracy of their portrayal of the subject. Ensure that the method you use to send your communication accurately delivers it to the receiving party.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the post and found it insightful.