Why Should I Turn Off My Phone – An Introduction to the Media Richness Theory

by • July 31, 2015 • Comments (0)


In my last article, “Please Turn off Your Phone”, posted on July 7th, you and I had an adult conversation about the potential threats to your upward career mobility by your coveted mobile device.   No, no…no haters over here, just worried about you. If you’ll recall, I even recommended you develop a personal, long-term communication strategy….remember?

While we all agree the phone is indispensable to our daily lives, we have to work just as hard on our interpersonal communication skills as we do at finding the next “time saving” app. And while I love my mobile phone just like you, I love talking about career development strategies even more. And that is why I am introducing you to the Media Richness Theory. (It’s a real thing…not making this up.)

The Media Richness Theory was a term coined in 1984 – with the theory since updated – by Richard L. Daft and Robert H. Lengel, who posit that a sender should select a medium of appropriate richness to communicate the desired message or fulfill a specific task.  Simply stated, the theory suggests we need to select the most “appropriate” medium to best deliver our message for optimum comprehension.

However, you don’t need to dive deep on this theory to understand the hierarchy of effective communication. At the bottom of the pile is smoke signals, then one step up is sending a letter, and then we get to something modern: texting….short quickies to tell or verify something. On top is (of course) face to face; nothing is more intense and effective than sitting two feet from someone locked in strong eye contact exchanging ideas. And everything else is in between, like this….

  1. Face to face
  2. Video conference
  3. Phone
  4. Email
  5. Text

Since your boss or bestie won’t challenge you, I will: why are you using email and text to have conversations? Shouldn’t you be using the phone part of your phone to dial and speak with someone directly? Wouldn’t you eliminate ambiguity and ensure more effectiveness in your communication if you used the phone more? Why are you not proofing your emails before sending them, thus aiding to confusion around what’s intended? In that regard, why are you creating emails with words you wouldn’t say in a face-to-face interaction? And for you sales folks, why aren’t you assertively pushing to get meetings with people to talk business in-person for a much richer experience? (I’m partially sorry for being rough here…but if I don’t bonk you with this stuff, who will?)

It’s now time for the wake-up call where we have to think about the next decade of our professional careers, inarguably the prime segment of our earnings era. The jobs we get, and achievements made in the next decade will dictate the overall success of our careers.

You may not think these things are serious, but consider that success at work is contingent on our ability to effectively communicate – both through the written and spoken word. How we impress, influence and communicate with our boss, peers, subordinates, prospects, clients, vendors, and interviewers will define our success.

In the next article, you’ll get to take a short quiz that can help you assess the level of attention you need to make against your personal, long-term communication strategy.


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