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how choose the right communication channel for your message

How to Choose the Right Communication Channel for Your Message

by | Apr 22, 2024 | By Karin Hurt and David Dye |

The Communication Channel You Choose Matters:
It’s What You Say AND How You Say It

If you’re managing a team, you know how crucial your choice of communication can be. Let’s start with a timeless piece of advice from Marshall McLuhan, the renowned communication researcher. He famously said, “The medium is the message.” What does this mean for you as a manager? It means that how you communicate with your team can be just as important, if not more so, than what you are communicating. It’s vital to chose the right communication channel for your message.

Think about this: if you decide to inform an employee that you’re going to change their schedule to an inconvenient time via a quick message on Slack, what message are you really sending? They might think, “My manager doesn’t care about me, or have my best interest at heart.” Whether or not this is true, that’s the impression your choice of medium might convey.

On the flip side, consider a scenario where you send a handwritten note to an employee expressing sincere gratitude for their hard work. This act alone might make them feel truly valued and appreciated. See? The medium really is the message.

Key Questions to Consider Before Communicating

When it comes time to decide how to communicate something important, we encourage you to slow down and consider these three crucial questions:

  1. What might it feel like to be on the receiving end? Try to understand their potential thoughts, feelings, and concerns.
  2. What do you want them to think, feel, or do as a result of this conversation? Define what a successful outcome looks like for you.
  3. What questions might they have? Be prepared to address these questions to reassure and inform.

Choosing the Right Communication Channel

medium is the Message

The rule of thumb here is straightforward: the more sensitive or emotional the conversation, the higher bandwidth you need. High bandwidth communications—like face-to-face meetings or video calls—allow for real-time feedback, facial expressions, and tone of voice, all of which are invaluable for complex or delicate messages.

For example, if you need to adjust the time of a team meeting, a quick message on Slack might suffice. However, if you’re about to change the strategic direction of your team, that’s a conversation that requires direct interaction. You need to see their reactions, engage in a real dialogue, and field questions on the spot. Of course, then you’ll want to follow up your conversation with 5×5 communication.

Training Managers to Choose Wisely

If you’re a manager of managers, take some time to help them think through this. Our experience is this isn’t intuitive for everyone– in fact for some managers, there’s a tendency to avoid tough conversations by using a less personal channel. One way to do this is to set up a workshop where they can work through realistic scenarios using the three questions mentioned above.

This helps them choose the right communication channel and plan the key messages they need to deliver.

Moreover, it’s crucial for building confidence among managers who might prefer hiding behind emails or chat messages because they’re nervous about having tough conversations.

The Takeaway

Always remember, when the conversation matters, the choice of how you communicate it matters just as much. Quick, one-way messages are often not sufficient for serious or complex discussions. They can lead to misunderstandings and feelings of being undervalued.

Help your managers understand which topics need more sensitive handling and guide them in establishing clear norms for choosing the appropriate communication channel. It’s all about making sure that the medium truly matches the message, ensuring that your team feels respected and valued. This isn’t just good communication; it’s good leadership.

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!


  1. John Sprague

    This “timeless truth” about the method of communication we utilize to deliver a message is so “spot on”. In today’s fast paced and technology driven business world I see way too many instances where messages are delivered electronically for the sake of having something in writing. Having written documentation can be critical, but having a “face to face” can be a key part of calming any concerns that may be present. Just as important is to have some answers to what you feel may be some of the questions or concerns of your audience. None of us can read minds, but making sure you get that initial gauge of how that message is received and then having prompt follow up is critical.

    • Karin Hurt

      Thanks so much, John! You raise a really important point about writing for documentation…. and missing the connection. Written communication can happen as a follow-up as part of the 5×5. So glad you joined the conversation!


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Karin Hurt and David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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