There are some things you might be doing to undermine your effectiveness as a communicator, and you may not even know you’re doing them.
You’re not an effective communicator if you just repeat the same message over and over. If you want to remind your employees about an important deadline, sending out a single reminder would be appropriate. Sending out multiple reminders, however, is overkill—and possibly even an insult to your employees’ ability to remember information.
Redundancy in your messages is not only unnecessary, but it’s also counterproductive and a waste of time—for you and your employees. Whenever you send out communication on an ongoing subject, make sure it offers added information and is not merely a reiteration of the material you already shared.
There’s definitely some truth in the wisdom that it’s better to overcommunicate than undercommunicate. Ideally, every manager gives their team members just enough direction to get on course and the leeway to do their thing free of micromanagement.
The reality is often different, though. No good boss wants to leave their teams feeling empty-handed or unsupported, so they sometimes veer off too far in the opposite direction. Ive learned the hard way that overcommunication is easier to fall into than you might think, and it winds up obfuscating my message and wasting everyone’s time.
Here are some of the key criteria I use in order to tell whether I’m overcommunicating.
Timing my message is one of the most important things I’ve learned to do. Determining the urgency of your message and the medium for it isn’t easy, but a good first step is simply being deliberate about it.
Ask yourself if the message you’re about to send will require additional clarification—but also whether you’ve covered its main point already.
For example, when I needed to let my employees know about an emergency, there’s no “wrong” time to send out a mass text message or phone recording can help.
Email, on the other hand, is more often a check-when-you-can medium, so it’s arguably the least disruptive. But texts, phone calls, and group chat messages on platforms like Slack or HipChat usually draw someone’s attention away from something else. So before you send it, ask yourself whether that’s essential.
By some estimates, around 205 billion emails get sent every day. How many of them repeat the same message, perhaps just reworded or with a greater sense of urgency? If an employee doesn’t fully understand the scope of a new project, it might make sense to redefine that scope in new terms—otherwise, you’re just wasting time.
Instead, ask yourself if the message you’re about to send will require additional clarification—but also whether you’ve covered its main point already.
There’s some evidence to suggest there’s an upper limit to the number of emails an employee can reasonably handle in a day. Some estimate that after more than 50< emails, most people struggle to keep up.
I’ve found that I really need to ponder just how much the messages matter. Sometimes, employees have forgotten about certain tasks or neglected things on a deadline, so I know that persistence in these cases is beneficial. The axiom “trust but verify” applies here. I try to keep those follow-ups to a minimum and only trade notes when there’s new information.
There are a number of ways to define “value” when it comes to how you communicate. For example, your message could be valuable because it gives new instructions or because it acknowledges receipt of a different message; the latter isn’t necessarily frivolous. Before I send anything, I ask myself:
- Is this person going to be grateful to have this information?
- What’s the worst that happens if I don’t send this message?
Plus, over time, my team members have learned that I only communicate when I really need to. So they pay more attention when I do.
An incoherent email—no less than an incoherent pep talk during a meeting—is like a puzzle that people have to solve before they can take any significant action or walk away with new knowledge.
An incoherent email . . . is like a puzzle that people have to solve before they can take any significant action.
No matter how quickly I need to get things done, I often take my time to craft clear messages for the team, including proofreading my emails before sending them. It’s a good step to make sure my messages are being received and digested efficiently. The University of Wisconsin has an excellent guide on writing clearer, more coherent sentences, and Purdue’s online style guide is a great resource that’s helped me be more concise.
This is my checklist when I want to talk to my team about anything noteworthy. As long as my messages are timed properly, original, persistent but not nagging, valuable, and clear, then I know I’ve minimized the risk of overcommunicating to them.
Still, while overcommunication is bad, undercommunicating can be even worse. It’s all about striking a balance, then maintaining it.
Relying Too Much on One Channel (Or the Wrong Channel)
Today’s technology makes it possible to communicate in many different ways. While it’s easy to do, you shouldn’t get stuck in one particular communication mode. There are so many digital communication channels that work really well these days. Email is a popular tactic and can work well, but people are inundated with email today and often suffer from “in-box overload.” So, you may want to consider using a combination of tactics for impactful news, such as the announcement of a merger or a high-level addition to the company management.
Consider a web-based meeting when you really want to make an impact. According to “The Evolution of Work—The Changing Nature of the Global Workplace,” a study by ADP Research Institute®, nearly 80 percent of employees regard technology positively for allowing deeper connections across distance and time. It just makes sense to consider other forms of digital communication, such as mobile apps or an internal company website.
Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news, but it doesn’t help the situation to be vague or unclear. You should try to deliver important news in person—and the more complicated or easily misunderstood the message is likely to be, the more it makes sense for you to sit down across from the person—or team—to convey the message. A direct, in-person approach adds an important component to your communication: The ability to observe others’ facial expressions and body language, which allows you to ensure your message has been understood.
Ignoring Nonverbal Cues
If you listen only to a person words and ignore their nonverbal cues your direct communication may not be successful. Research conducted by Dr. Albert Mehrabianindicates that 55 percent of our intent is delivered through nonverbal elements, such as facial expressions, gestures, and postures. If employees seem to express agreement with a new policy, non verbal cues such as hunched shoulders, crossed arms, and lack of eye contact may indicate that you still have some work to do in order to get buy-in from your team.
Not Being Open
Secrecy in the workplace often erodes trust in leadership and foments gossip. By being more transparent in your communication, you foster a sense of belonging and trust. Knowledge replaces speculation, and can help reduce gossip and rumors.
Remember—communication is a two-way street. Soliciting feedback is one of the greatest ways for you to know what employees are truly thinking. If you want to improve your communication skills, heed this advice: Speak less, listen more. After you’ve had the opportunity to listen, you can fine-tune your communication skills to be more effective than before.