I received an e-mail a couple of days ago from an executive who reports to me. He was updating me on the progress of his discussion with one of our key authors. He complained that he had left several voice mails and just couldn’t get her to call him back.

I thought, That’s interesting. She always gets right back to me. Then it dawned on me, I have never tried to call her. All of our interactions have been via e-mail. So, I suggested that this same executive e-mail her instead. Surprise, surprise, she responded within the hour.

It occurred to me that every person probably has their own preferred medium of communication. I know I do. If you e-mail me, you’ll generally get a response within a few hours. If you leave a voice mail, it will likely be several hours and could be as much as a day. If you send me a letter—and expect a response by letter—it will generally take several days to a couple of weeks.

If this is true of me, it is probably also true of my key contacts. I need to be smart enough to realize that not everyone prefers e-mail … or voice mail … or snail mail. I need to determine what method they favor and adjust my style to suit theirs.

So how do you find out how they like to communicate? Well, certainly you can observe their behavior over time. But why not bypass this process and just ask? Once they tell you their preference, enter the information into their Outlook contact record or whatever CRM system you are using.

In addition, you should tell people your preferred medium of communication. I have started telling people when I hand them my business card: “The best way to get in touch with me is by e-mail.” I think this will go along way toward reducing the frustration in my day-to-day contact with the key people in my life.