About 6 months ago, during the height of the global pandemic I am sitting at my desk wanting to reach out to a friend. I am stuck. How do I get in touch with them? Email? Phone? SMS? Instant message? Video?

Looking at the Windows taskbar on my computer there are so many options. Email? Work or Personal? Phone? Text or Call? What's App? Facebook Messenger?

During the months of sheltering at home the number of communication tools I am using on a day to day basis has expanded. A year ago video conferencing was an anomaly. Today is business as usual.

Looking over the half a dozen different tools I can use to reach out to my friend, I ask, "Why are there so many? Are six different communications tools necessary?"

The answer I came to is, "Yes."

Still, I am lost. Assuming that all the communications programs are useful, then how do you keep track of who is on what and why use one particular method over another.?

It is overwhelming.

I reach out to my friend and ask her, "How do you manage all the different ways to communicate?" She walks me through her "communications infrastructure". This is what I discovered...

Each of us is different and have different needs. There are people who have a real need to protect their privacy. For their own physical safety and the safety of their family. Then there are the people who are just paranoid.

For the former group, they must take extraordinary measure to keep their home address and phone number private. For the later group they make it challenging for others to get in touch with them operating under the mistaken impression that the measures they are taking to protect their privacy actually works, when in fact it does not.

The goal is to find a balance between maximizing privacy and security while minimizing complexity and inconvenience. You want to be accessible to those you wish to be in communication with and inaccessible to those you do not.

There are different ways we communicate: email, phone, text/SMS/Instant Message and video. Most of us have multiple email addresses, phone numbers and accounts typically divided into personal and work.

Take an inventory of the communication channels you use. There maybe more then you think.

When I did an inventory for myself I realized that I have:

  1. Work Email
  2. Work Email to receive automated alerts
  3. Personal Email
  4. Work Email for a 2nd business
  5. Email for non-profit I am involved in
  6. Email for a coaching program I am involved in
  7. Mobile phone number
  8. Office phone number (toll free)
  9. Office phone number (direct)
  10. Office phone number for 2nd business
  11. Facebook
  12. LinkedIn
  13. Signal
  14. What's App
  15. Microsoft Teams

When I asked my friend how she manages this, she said that how she communicates with a particular person depends upon how close and how trusted that person is. So for example, she communicates with a very small number of people on Signal (a theoretically secure chat, voice and video app). For group messaging she uses What's App. When meeting someone for the first time she gives them a Google Voice number rather than her mobile number.

Thinking back to when I was growing up (in a time before call waiting) my parents installed a second phone line at home. Only my parents, my sister and I knew the number. This enabled us to get in touch even if the main line was busy and it became our private line of communication. We knew that when that phone rang it was someone in the immediate family and immediately prioritize that communication.

The take away is that even though we have a plethora of ways we can communicate it does not mean that each should be given the same priority. We need to pick and chose how and when we communicate.