Software

Don't lose the message by over-communicating

If you think you're a good communicator because you communicate everything, you're wrong. Here are ways to ensure the right message gets across in the right way.

Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows that I'm constantly pushing for more communication in the workplace.

I want to amend that standpoint a bit. Communication can work wonders for productivity and efficiency if it's the right kind of communication. The wrong kind of communication does nothing but gum up the works.

The wrong kind of communication

It's like a spin on the Boy Who Cried Wolf story. The little boy in the story was always trying to fool the village people to come to his rescue by yelling, "Wolf!" when there was no wolf. But when the real thing arrived and he yelled, no one took him seriously.

In the case of the workplace, the equivalent to that little boy is the coworker who communicates EVERYTHING and subsequently and unknowingly conditions people to ignore it, even the important stuff. This happens a lot now with all the email and voice mail we all have to deal with.

Some people over-share because they don't want anyone to accuse them of not supplying needed information. The problem is those people can't discern between information that is needed and information that is superfluous and just gets in the way. It's important, in order to be a good communicator, to know what information to share. Because, let's face it, there's nothing worse than getting stacks of statistic-laden emails about a tech roll-out but then not actually getting an email when the roll-out is happening.

The right kind of communication

Ask yourself if the information you're getting ready to email to everyone will honestly impact their jobs. Does everyone on the Receipt list, for example, have to know that you're congratulating a fellow employee on a promotion? Or is it really only important to the person you're congratulating? Does everyone in your mailing list really need to know that you'll be out of the office four weeks from Wednesday?

Is there some information you have or some action you're about to take that may impact others? Run through the dominoes of work roles in your mind and discern who will need to know, who will not, and what part of the information is relevant.

Consider your audience

Particularly if you're addressing a large group of people, be as brief as possible. For some people, even if you're announcing the day the world will end, and you take a long, drawn-out time to say it, they're going to lose interest. And if they lose interest, they don't get the information. Stay on the path to the point.

There will be people in the groups you address who want all the details. If that's the case, offer to follow up later with those details. In other words, provide details on a need-to-know basis.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

13 comments
CiscoGuy71
CiscoGuy71

"The problem is those people can't discern between information that is needed and information that is superfluous..."  I STRONGLY disagree. That's the job of a manager. A manager is in charge of managing people of a certain skill set performing certain tasks for specific projects.  If he cant discern what communication is important and whats not than we have a fundamental comprehension problem.

In my opinion, whats SORELY needed from managers in the corporate world is ACKNOWLEDGEMENT.  It takes 10-20 seconds to read and process an email.  If he is not acknowledging emails (which is a form of communication) than there is no confirmation that he has received and read the emails). That leads things up to conjecture and assumptions lead to problems. Ive seen it over and over again.  Why would you open yourself up to that when its completely avoidable??  Big picture conclusion - LAZINESS.

lescoutinhovr
lescoutinhovr

I agree. Nice post. This also happen when people try to emphasize about some subject.

sajimon.alex
sajimon.alex

There might be recipients of the mail who are interested only in the main point, while some may want to know all the nitty gritty details. So it is a good idea to highlight the main point you are trying to communicate, so people can choose to read everything or just understand the gist of it.

desirawson
desirawson

You can get caught up in a troublesome situation with this subject because just when you think you DON'T need to let everyone know, there is always someone who will say that you 'left them out' (pointing fingers, i.e. insecurity), and then you are told that all must be communicated no matter what your common sense tells you. This is a lose-lose situation. Trust me, I've been caught in this catch 22. The key to this situation is knowing the people you work with and who will expect to be 'included' on the most minute detail and the person who cannot stand to get 400 emails as a 'BCC' for FYI purposes only (which BTW can also be called a CYA email). It's a slippery slope this subject and I don't think that your advice covers how sensitive business transactions and office personnel, whether they are managers or co-workers, will take each and every email and use it in any way that they feel fit. I've found it is best that you call a short meeting and explain that the subject may not be important to some (and time consuming at that) but that you want to make sure everyone is on the same page with the same information/knowledge.

Ang704
Ang704

Any thoughts on this? How do you tell someone that they are giving you too much info?

saurabh.mukadam
saurabh.mukadam

I like this article...sometimes too many information adds more confusion..it is always good to be very specific while communicating

mjstelly
mjstelly

In my experience, I've noticed that terms like 'discerning', 'targeted', and 'nuanced' have fell out of favor vis'-a-vis' terms like 'C-Y-A' and 'I told you so'. I don't really know how or what started it, but Toni was spot-on when describing the 'over-sharer'. I call it 'defensive communication'. I've experienced it first-hand especially with emails. In a work environment that fosters a "sh*t rolls downhill" mantra, the farther down the hill you are, the more apt you are to become an 'over-sharer'. You want to ensure you have a paper trail that proves you communicated whatever needed communicating to whomever needed to know. In this scenario, the company is to blame for failing to foster trust among its employees.

iambryan
iambryan

As far as good communications goes, it can easily go bad. This article will be on hand and published so it can be read by the offenders prior to being placed into a blackhole email rule (happened with a few individuals at my last employer). Keep it brief and to the point... WHEN it is required. Cheers

santeewelding
santeewelding

Is IT run amok, and no Ghenghis. Sounds like you are approximately mid-way, rowing and grousing below-deck.

QAonCall
QAonCall

If you really would like to understand this better, you could download or check out a book by Peter Drucker. This comes downs to understanding two simple facts and by understanding them, you can address them for yourself, and for your co-workers, peers and more importantly, your boss. The concept is knowing whether you learn by reading, by writing, by talking or doing or any combination of each. Once you understand the concepts (and Drucker does an outstanding job explaining it) you then 1) Identify yourself 2) Identify your boss 3) identify peers Once you have this down you then communicate THIS FACT. For example, if you learn by reading (and this plays more into the over communication than many of the other facts presented here) you naturally assume (without following the method above) that everyone else learns like that. Therefore you do that, until someone tells you, 'I' learn by 'doing' therefore when you send me a book (condensed or not) I do not find value in it. I would rather that you send me a brief outline, then setup a 30 minute meeting to explain to me what the information is, then send me a follow up I can refer to based on our meeting. This will be the most effective method for me. Again, this is an example, but certainly a reasonable example of real life and how things get done. Drucker's book is completely worth the read/listen to anyone directing their own career and you will find direct relationships to your daily life, your work relationships and probably find that in a lot of areas where their are issue, you have some ownership in resolving them. Keep in mind, if your boss is a reader, and you are a talker, you are rarely going to provide a lot of value to him, and probably see your own reviews reflect this, no matter how much of a high performer you are. Additionally, the converse is the same, if you are a reader/writer, and he is a talker or doing, your frustration at rarely 'delivering what he expects'. Again, reviews reflect this. In your next mbo/review session be prepared with Drucker's tools and I bet you will find things go well, and you see a shift in how your outlook changes. More importantly your leadership can help your department, organization and so on. Additionally, when you are in an interview, if you want to 'kill it' ask these questions. 1) Will you be my supervisor on a daily basis? 2) I have found I am at my peak of efficiency when I understand and my supervisor understands how 'we' learn. This helps me consistently deliver the 'right information' in the 'right amount', and the 'right format'. I have done this and literally been asked more about this thought process than about the job skills (which typically are well documented in a resume anyways). While I completely agree and expect the IT field to have technical skills, we have increasingly more demanding needs for communications. So you want to be a leader, lead oneself first. The name of the book is "Managing Oneself', by Peter Drucker.

kawatkins62
kawatkins62

Tell them that you are experiencing some confusion among employees due to extraneous information undermining the communication of important information, and because this is bad for business, you are sitting down with each employee and going through a sample of their emails and teaching each one how to filter out this extra information. Then go through a recent email and teach them what parts could have been left out and why. And then proceed to the next employee. If the their emails are fine, tell them what you are doing, then tell them that theirs are fine. That way everyone knows that you are actually paying attention to these details, and you reached your target offender without singling him/her out.

kawatkins62
kawatkins62

Very nicely outlined. I'm sold. Thanks for the tip.

QAonCall
QAonCall

After you digest it. I used the audio version, and I review it regularly. It is a resource I use often. I hope you find it to be as well, and I would challenge you, if you do, pass it along.

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