Theory of
Targeted Communication 
 by L. Van Warren

Methods of reaching people person-to-person are called "modalities".  There are Phone people, Fax people, EMail people, Net people, Mail people, VoiceMail people, InPerson people, and Tape people.  Within these universes are GetToThePoint People, KissMyRump People and EasyGoing People.   Thus there are people who are unreachable by certain modalities.  These reasons have to do with habit, culture, etc..  Some estimates are possible; HR people people are Fax people.  Many programmer's are Email people.  Many doctors are InPerson people.

You only get what you want if:

a) you communicate with person X and
b) person X is willing, and
c) person X is able.

The apparent unfairness of life is this.  Making theassumption that b) and c) are always true, you only get what you want if the modality you choose is strong for you AND for person X.  Said another way, you only win if you communicate and you only communicate if your modality is strong, AND if person X is reached by that modality.  Thus effective communication is not a mere luxury.  It is the first of the three confining fences a), b) and c) that must be torn down if one is to escape the prison of ineffectiveness.  There are gunners (frustrated by their own ineffectiveness) at each of the three fences, happily spraying passers by, hoping we can come to share in their bitterness and mediocrity.  I spent most of my adult life believing that "getting mad" was the only way to get past the three fences.  In fact, the only thing that getting mad accomplished was causing me to change modalities!  Thus I became more effective, but with a negative consequence - I developed the false belief that getting mad made me an effective person.  Thus, like B.F. Skinner's superstitious pigeon, I danced the dance of random reinforcement.

The act of sending a message is meaningless unless the recipient is strong in that modality.  Example;  If you send Email to me, you are almost guaranteed a rapid, complete response.  If you send VoiceMail to me, you might never receive a response.  You might think that something is wrong.  Nothing is wrong.  I have just limited my modalities as a coping mechanism.  Most people do.

So, as effective people, it is our responsibility to Map the modalities of people whose responses we depend on.  One could imagine annotating one's digital phone book that sorts the modalities by strengths: {EM, N, M, V, IP, T}.  One could even quantify the quality of the response for a given person in each modality, but they might think you were wierd!  You could solve that by referring them to this article.  If you believe in the scientific method and have lots of extra time one could even rank commQuality, measured in units of success per unit time for each person you know.  Perhaps it is a mistake NOT to know or rank these qualities.  Perhaps there is an undiscovered modality for person X that gets you everyting you ever wanted!  Try mapping your own modality strengths, or have a friend do it (single blind).  Better yet, hope that someone thinks to do it without telling you first! (double blind) Then for each relationship between you and person X choose the method of communication such that the sum of the strengths in the relationship between sender and recipient is maximized.

If you are frustrated because "person X never responds to my email", try taking the email you sent to person X and reading it them via VoiceMail.  It might be handled differently.  Wait an interval of time. Evaluate the effectiveness of the result, measured as elapsed time to a favorable response.  Fax it to them.  Walk a hard copy to their office.  Map the modalities.  Always send the same, well prepared communication.  Always say please and thank you unless it makes them think something is wrong.

Sometimes a single modality is not enough.  Some people are so oversubscribed, lazy, or unable to cope that they erect firewalls on multiple modalities.  They only react when all the lights on their phones are lit at once, so to speak.  In this case, you MUST send information via multiple modalities simultaneously.  I call this, "redundant modalities", borrowing a term that my friend Brian Beckman coined when we were designing user interfaces a decade ago or so.

In whatever modality the communication is being issued, one must be calm and appreciative in tone.  Getting mad frequently detracts from the effectiveness of the message.  The Japanese always start a letter with a remark about the weather.  This enables the reader to ramp into the content of the letter smoothly and non abruptly.

Targeting the correct modality applies to everyone you communicate with, vertically and horizontally.

(c) 1998 L. Van Warren * Warren Design Vision * All Rights Reserved